This guide will take you through the basics of taking your online business from “idea” to “deployment”. If you are unfamiliar with the in’s and out’s of web design, starting a website business can be a complicated and involved process that requires a lot patience and a large learning curve. We’ll start small with the first part of this guide broken down into easy to understand sections and then fine tune each step to get your online business up and running.
The three parts of this guide will be a high-level, simple explanation to get you started. There is an overwhelming amount of information available on the web to sort through and understand.
You have to start small, keep learning, and then continuously expand your knowledge base. If you take on too much at once, you will likely become exhausted, confused, and give up. That's the last thing we want for you!
You are reading this article because you are ready to get started with making your creative business a success. Stick with us and we'll help you get there.
Part 1 of this series will focus around you: you’re idea, product or service that you will offer, who your ideal customer is, and the name of your business.
Part 2 will focus on the technical aspects of developing your website to get you up and running.
Part 3 is all about networking. Now that you have a business model and a website to deliver your product or service to your ideal customer, you’ll need to know how to reach your customers and how to keep scaling your business.
Approximate costs for each step are provided throughout this guide so you have an idea of what to plan for.
Part 1 of Starting a Website Business:
Your Idea. $0
If you’re like most people thinking about starting a website business, the first thing you have is a great idea that you are convinced will give you the life you have always dreamed. And maybe you’re right, but let’s make sure you’ve really vetted out your idea before going any further.
The thought of having to write out a detailed business plan would put anyone to sleep. Heck, it might even derail people from going any further with their dreams. But if you’ve been keeping up with Left Side Art, you know we are focused primarily around helping the creative small business owner even though a lot of our guides help any online business.
If writing business plans is your thing, here are a couple of good resources.
The only problem with these types of resources is that they are not tailored to a creative who might want to sell their arts or crafts online or maybe coach others in developing their creative skills. The typical business plan templates go through extreme detail to prepare you for approaching angel investors, finding loans, or other type of heavy financial help.
In your case, you might just want to have a simple blog with an online store to sell the products you make. This plan will make sure you have all of your bases covered without it being overwhelming or boring.
Let’s get started.
Do you need some fresh ideas?
Here are some creative business ideas focused around creative work that you can do from home:
For each of these creative business ideas, you can earn income from selling a product or service. Additional income can be made through affiliate links and Adsense.
- Artist and Creator (commissioned work, prints, tutorial ebooks, advisor, teacher)
- Consultant (health and fitness, life coach, small business support,
- Writer (copyrighting or proofreading for books, magazines, web articles)
- Home organization and decoration
- Product reviewer
- Planner (events, weddings)
- Web designer
- Graphic designer
- Social media specialist
- Arts for kids
These are a few basic questions you need to be able to answer in full to really understand where you want to take your idea:
Your Product or Service:
- Will you be offering a physical or digital product?
- How will this product be produced?
- How will you handle large inventory?
- Will you be offering a service?
- How many clients will you be able to handle at one time?
- How much will you charge for your product or service?
- Remember to take into consideration costs for materials and your time.
- How will you pay yourself?
- Will you have to pay a staff?
- Is your business scalable? Meaning, will you be able to grow your business in the future?
- Where will you store more products?
- Will you need additional help?
- Will you need to outsource parts of your business?
- How will you pay for this new online business?
- Do you have large start-up costs for your inventory and need to take out a loan?
Price charged to customer =
materials + shipping materials and costs + mark-up
The mark-up is what you add on top of your base costs to determine how much you'll make from selling your product or service. This is also how you will pay yourself and any staff or outsourcing you may need to do. Don't underestimate the value of your time. Charge what you think each hour of your work is worth depending on your experience.
Your Competition. $0
Know your competition inside and out. There are way too many choices for customers to choose from these days and you will have to be prepared to know exactly how you will stand out from the rest. Stop what you are doing right now and visit your top 10 competitors.
- What is your competition offering? List product or service details and prices.
- Do you know exactly who your competition is? List the top 10.
- Have you spent time on their sites really understanding how they do business?
- How are you different from your competition?
- How is your product or service more valuable than theirs?
- Does your product or service fill a specific need for your customer that your competition is failing to provide?
Bookmark each of these competitors and make it a habit to check their sites and see what they are doing. Visit forums in your industry and see what people are saying about them, if anything. Really get to understand how your product or service will be better for your customer.
Your Customer. $0-4
Understanding your customer - who they are and what they want - is the absolute most important aspect of having a successful website business. Without your customers, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby.
Think about who your ideal customer is and what they need. Put yourself in their shoes. Why do they need your product or service? If they do buy your product or service, what will make them keep coming back for more?
Really get to know your customer and ask yourself:
- How old are they?
- Are they male or female?
- What do they do in their spare time?
- What are their interests and hobbies?
- What are their buying habits?
- What do they do for a job?
- What level of education do they have?
- Are they single or married? Have kids?
The more you get inside your customer’s head, the more you’ll understand what they need from you. Often people get caught up in selling a product in a manner that suits them personally or because they like to produce that product. Maybe you’ll be lucky and be able to sell what you absolutely love to make and do not need to make any adjustments. But you may need to be open to modifying your product or service to be more tailored towards the market you are targeting.
This can be a bit of a trial and error process so why not make at easy on yourself as you can? Try to visualize your product or service from your customer’s point of view. Ask your customers what they would like to see as far as improvements to your product, or maybe something in addition to your product that you have not yet thought of.
Customer feedback can be a powerful tool - use it wisely.
Understanding your customer - who they are and what they want - is the absolute most important aspect of having a successful business.
Answer the questions above as honestly as you can. Literally visualize your customer and understand their fears and desires before going any further. Understanding who your ideal customer is will shape your entire business and possibly set it up for success or failure.
This book by by Harry Washburn and Kim Wallace gives excellent insight to understanding your customer. The new paperback version was $13.01 when I looked it up, but saw used copies for as little as $4 with free shipping. Extremely low cost for all of the benefit it will provide you.
Here’s the description on Amazon’s website:
"Selling can be a science as well as an art, and offering the right product at the right price is only the starting point. The authors explore the thought processes potential buyers go through every time they consider making a purchase. This guide offers a systematic approach to understanding customers' motivations and tailoring the entire sales strategy to fit the customers' buying path. By teaching salespeople how to recognize different buying profiles, this book offers strategies and tactics to break out of non-productive patterns, forge new relationships, and turn promising prospects into repeat customers."
The authors of this book provide a 10 question quiz on their website that will really help you understand how you think about products and how your customer might vary from your outlook. I took the quiz which took about 3 minutes to complete and here was my result:
After completing the quiz, which is absolutely free and you’re not prompted to sign-up for anything, you’ll be able to see how you compare to a few famous faces which you can relate back to who you have relationships with and which personality might best match up with your customer.
At this stage of starting a website business, you may or may not have existing customers. If you do not have a current customer base, you may want to seek out people who you will eventually want to market to and ask them questions about your product or service. If you do have current customers, ask for their feedback.
- What is appealing about your product or service?
- Why do they need your product or service?
- How will your product or service make their lives easier? What need is it filling?
- Why would they purchase your product or service over the competition? Price, quality, convenience?
- Would they be a repeat customer?
- How would they like your product or service to be improved?
- Would they recommend you to their friends and family?
Be as specific with your questions as you can. With these questions answered, you should be well on your way to understanding how to best position your product or service for your customer. As you change products or even markets, you’ll need to continually revisit this section and keep learning as much as you can about your customer.
There are a hundred, perhaps thousands, of options to choose from when buying a product or service. Make sure your’s stands out to be the best and completely aligned with your customers’ needs.
Your Business Name. $0
This is the hard part. Spend some serious time thinking about what you want your site to be called. It's very likely that you will want the name of your business to be in the domain name (web address). This is key to starting a website business that people can easily remember and find.
For example, this site is called Left Side Art. My domain is www.leftsideart.com. I read many articles suggesting to follow guidelines such as:
- being easy to type
- being easy to remember
- using a dot com (.com) rather than a .net or .org since most people seem to associate business and personal web addresses with .com and non-profits with .org.
You may have heard about a long list of new domain extensions (that’s the .com part of the domain name) that have become available recently. There’s anything from .pizza to .lol available now, but not all extensions are created equal.
Web browsers and email clients are not fully caught up with being able to read the new extensions. You don’t want to risk not reaching potential customers. If you think you might be interested in one of these new extensions, you might want to consider this in how you name your company and buy both the new fancy extension and the more common .com or .net. If you buy both now, you can always do a redirect from your .com to your .lol later.
Determining a name is easier than it sounds. I spend three whole days, which seemed like forever during that time, to get mine right and still had to redo it. I started out with One Creative Studio (www.onecreativestudio.net) which is not easy to type and is way too long for what I prefer, and was not a .com.
Also, I was finding character limitations when I would try to sign up for Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. for about 15 characters. So I would end up with OneCreativeStud... or for my Twitter account I used an abbreviation of OneCreativeStd. Yeah, that was a major fail and I realized it a couple of hours later and quickly took it down. But who knows, maybe I would have gotten more traffic if I would have left it.
4 key things to check to be sure your business name is available:
First, Google the business name you want to use and see if it is already taken. The SBA (Small Business Association) is great resource.
Domain Go to BlueHost to start finding out what domains are available. For example, if the name of your business is “The Best Balloon Shop” and you want a domain “http://bestballoons.com” then simply type it in and see if it is available.
Social Media Platforms Check to see if the name is also available in each of the social media platforms you plan on using (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and so on).
Remember, for some of the social media sites, length can be an issue, so try to keep your number of characters under 12 and you should be safe.
Gmail account You’ll also want to have an email address available. For example, go to Gmail and see if “firstname.lastname@example.org” is available. Have your Gmail (or similar) email ready to go from this point on. It will really help keep your personal and business emails separate from the start.
Part 1 of this guide is all about thinking and preparing. You could literally spend $0 and be well on your way of knowing what you are going to offer your customers, who your target customers will be, and what you are going to name your website business.
In Part 2, we’ll dive into all of the technical aspects of how to set up your domain with your hosting provider, how to set up your theme, and essential plug-ins and widgets to get you going with starting a website business.