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Business Stage: Development of an Online Business (2022)
I’m not one to usually publicly celebrate my wins – it’s likely the introvert in me combined with my INTJ personality type that doesn’t enjoy being in the spotlight. But when I hit over $10,000 in monthly billing for a content creation agency I had just launched less than 6 months before – I was feeling mighty proud of myself.
The validation from customers, referrals, and increasing sales telling me that what I’m doing has value? That people were willing to pay for my work and ideas? It felt pretty darn good.
Especially because, up until that point, I felt like I had no idea what the heck I was doing.
Building an online business is equal parts thrill, fear, exhilaration, and dry-heaving into a bucket.
Oh yeah—and it’s also all-consuming.
So, in fact, when everyone was showering me with praise for my business success I had to bite my tongue because, in actuality, I’ve been chipping away learning what NOT to do for the last five years with various side gigs and hustles online while I worked my 9-5.
This is why I wanted to share my story with you. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no one right way to do things. You don’t need to have a fancy degree or be a tech genius (but kudos to you if you being that to the table). All you really need is an idea, some grit, and the willingness to learn even if you fail over and over again.
During the development phase of my online business, I felt like a total fraud. Like I was faking it until I made it. My day job was in a director level position overseeing multiple departments in a large healthcare system. What business did I have launching a social media and content creation agency? I barely use social media myself.
But somehow, I decided it would be a good idea to start an online business. Go me!
As I’ve learned the hard way, building an online business is no walk in the park. But it’s also so much more than just making money.
It’s tapping into your creative side and diving deep to discover what you’re truly passionate about—which might come as a complete surprise to you. It can be eye-opening and thrilling to embark on this journey.
And, surprisingly, along the way, you’ll also find yourself making connections with other people who are just as hungry to learn and grow. And that’s where it gets really interesting because your business can quickly transform into something much more than just a side hustle. It becomes an opportunity to build community.
So if you’re feeling lost or uncertain about your next steps, know that you’re not alone. I’m here with you, every step of the way.
Let’s take a moment to dig into the phase before you actually launch your new online business – the development phase.
The Big Idea
The first step in starting an online business is coming up with an idea. And trust me, this is not as easy as it sounds. If it were, everyone would be doing it! But that’s where your creativity comes in.
I’ve put together a step-by-step tutorial on the exact steps I took to identify my “big idea” – if you know you want to start a business but aren’t sure where to start, this exercise will get you headed in the right direction!
How to come up with a business idea
Start with your passions. What are you interested in? What do you love to do? What are you constantly talking about?
Think about your skills. What are you good at? What can you teach others?
Look for gaps in the market. What services or products are not being offered that meet your needs?
Browse online forums and discussion boards. What are people talking about? What are their pain points?
Once you’ve come up with a few ideas, it’s time to do some research.
If you’re still short on ideas, here are over 107+ ideas for online businesses ideas to get your started.
The Research Phase
This is where you’ll want to get really specific. You’ll want to know your target market, your competition, and how you’re going to stand out from the crowd.
How to do your competitor analysis
Follow these steps for a thorough competitor analysis:
1. Find out what they’re offering and at what price (and remember to factor in all costs, such as hosting fees, website maintenance fees , etc.)
2. Decide how exactly you’re different from them
3. Identify your target market and see if they overlap with your competitor’s
4. Research their marketing strategy and see if it’s working
5. Analyze their weaknesses and figure out how you can capitalize on them
6. Check out their social media presence and online reviews
7. See what you can learn from them and what you can improve on
How to figure out your target market
It’s important to be specific when it comes to defining your target market. There is a big difference between writing off an entire demographic (i.e., teenagers) and targeting a very specific group of people (i.e., teenage girls who love horses and country music).
Here are some tips to help you define your target market:
1. Start with demographics (i.e., age, sex, location, education level)
2. Think about lifestyle choices (i.e., political party, religious views)
3. Consider interests (i.e., movies, books, sports)
4. Tastes and preferences (i.e., food, beer, pets)
How to financially plan for your business
It’s important to know your startup costs before you get started on anything else. You don’t want to go through all this work and not be able to support yourself financially, right?
1. Determine your monthly overhead (i.e., cost of rent/mortgage, utilities, business insurance)
2. Calculate how much money you’ll need for your first month of business (i.e., product purchases, marketing)
3. Add some extra wiggle room to account for any unexpected expenses or losses
4. Now add in 5-10% more just to be safe
5. So what’s your monthly overhead? What’s the minimum amount of money you’ll need to start your business? What’s the maximum amount of money you can afford to spend?
6. Now, sit down and do a budget for at least a month or two into the future. How much will your monthly income be based on what you’re selling? When will that income slow down or speed up? Remember that your income may not be consistent at first, so you’ll need to plan for that.
Create a lean business plan
Even if you’re not ready to create a full business plan, it’s important to have some sort of road map for your business. This will help you make sure you’re on the right track and prevent you from veering off course.
1. Come up with a vision for your business
2. Define your mission statement and core values
3. Create a mission and value proposition
4. Include your target market, competitors and how you’re different from them
5. Make sure to include milestones for the next six months so you can prove that this business is here to stay
6. Outline your business goals and objectives
7. Determine what you need to do to achieve those goals
8. Create a timeline
9. Estimate the cost of launching and running your business
10. Determine your financial needs (i.e., how much money do you need to break even?)
11. Brainstorm ways to reduce costs or increase revenue
12. Come up with a preliminary budget
13. Decide on your business structure
14. Determine what legal aspects need to be considered when starting your business (i.e., trademarking, taxes, licenses)
The Development Phase
Now for the fun part – developing your business!
During this phase, you’ll be creating or building out all of the components that go into an online business, including social media accounts, website, brand guidelines, and so on.
Make sure to take your time and do things correctly. You want your business to look polished and professional, and that takes some effort.
But don’t worry, I’ll walk you through everything!
Social media for business
Setting up your social media accounts is crucial.
People use social media to learn more about businesses they’re interested in, and it’s an opportunity for you to share who you are with the world.
Not sure what kind of page to make? Make both – a personal account (for you to share with friends and family) and a business account (for your customers/potential customers).
This is the ideal social media platform for lifestyle brands or any business that lends itself to showcasing your services or products visually.
This is the place to show off pretty things or your creative process.
This is the best place to engage with your current and potential customers, plus it’s free!
This is a great place to share links to your blog posts and website.
This is the perfect place to connect with other businesses and professionals in your industry.
Upload short, fun videos of you or your product, or share what you do!
This is a great platform to interact with your customers, post fun stories and share updates about your business!
Another social media platform for you to share your story, but this one is designed to feature short, interactive videos with followers.
Social media is a great (free) way to connect with your customers and promote your business, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Make sure to post consistently (at least once a day) and be interactive with your followers.
Make sure to grab your username and set up your social media accounts ASAP!
Build your website
Your website is the cornerstone of your business.
It’s where people can learn more about you, buy your products or services, and connect with you.
There are a few things to keep in mind when designing your website:
Keep it simple
You don’t want to confuse or overwhelm your visitors! Make sure all of your design elements are consistent with each other.
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly
More and more people are using their phones to go online! Responsive design is important because it means that your site will adjust to fit whatever screen someone is viewing it on (i.e., phone, computer).
Keep it consistent with the rest of your branding
You want everything to look polished and professional, right? You should also think about having a blog on your site so you can share information about your business, products, and services.
Now, what do you want to include on your website?
Your homepage is like your website’s introduction. You can share who you are and what you do here. If someone landed on your site, this would be the first thing they’d see!
This is where you can tell people more about yourself, what you do, and your mission for your business.
This is where people can find out how to get in touch with you.
If you have a product or service that you sell, this would be the place to tell people about them!
You should consider having a blog on your website so you can share more information about your business, products, and services. This is also a great place to show off your writing skills and connect with customers (and potential customers) on a more personal level.
Website design can be tricky, but it’s so important! Make sure to take your time and think about what you want to include on your website.
Your website will be the first thing people see when they find you, so make it count!
Your brand guidelines are the key to creating consistency in all of your branding efforts.
When you develop your brand guidelines, here are some things to consider:
What’s the tone of voice for your business?
Casual, professional or somewhere in between?
What’s your brand personality like?
Fun, professional, sassy…?
Logo design guidelines
You can hire a designer or do it yourself. Either way, make sure you have the following so your logo is properly designed:
Colors – You should also think about what colors you want to use for your website, social media accounts, blog, business cards, etc. Fonts – Make sure you select fonts that are easy to read and work well together. Be consistent!
Don’t use more than two or three fonts on one project.
A logo can be a great way to brand your business if you want to have a polished look. However, if you want to have a more personal connection with your customers, consider using your own handwriting or using photography in some of your branding materials. You could also use stock photos!
The right logo can be the key to creating consistency, but it’s not necessary for building an online business.
A branding board is a great way to get an idea of how all of your branding elements will look together.
It’s helpful to have everything in one place so you can easily refer to it when designing your website, social media accounts, business cards, etc.
You can create your own branding board or use a template. Here’s an example of a branding board:
When you’re developing your online business, it’s important to think about your branding. What type of image do you want to project? What’s the tone of voice for your business? What’s the personality of your brand?
Once you have a good idea of what you want, you can start developing your branding guidelines. This will help you create consistency in all of your branding efforts, from your website to your social media accounts to your business cards.
Software Solutions and Tools
You might want to think about investing in software that can help you manage social media accounts, your email list, and more. Here are a few of the most common business software tools startups use:
MailChimp, AWeber, and Constant Contact are popular email management tools that startups use to create their newsletters. These services also have integrations with other resources such as social media and website analytics.
Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote are all popular document management tools that startups use to store files, collaborate with team members, and take notes.
Content writing and editing
The rise of artificial intelligence is making it easier than ever for content marketers to create quality content. Check out some great content writing tools that startups use, such as Hemingway App, BuzzSumo, and CoSchedule.
Social media management
Marketing tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social offer users the ability to manage all their social media accounts in one place, as well as measure performance and track analytics. In addition, these platforms offer a wide range of features such as scheduling posts, analyzing campaign results, and more.
You can use tools like SEMrush and Moz to research keywords, find new target audiences, and see how your competition is doing when it comes to SEO. You can also use these tools to determine which metrics your website needs in order to be successful.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is a great way to keep track of your contacts and conversions. If you’re just starting out, this might not be necessary right away so it can wait until you’ve established your customer base.
There are lots of different payment solutions for small businesses, so finding the one that works best for you will involve some research. Some popular payment solutions for small businesses include Square, Stripe, and PayPal.
If you’re looking for financial software, you might want to check out QuickBooks, FreshBooks, and Xero. These programs can help you manage your finances, track expenses, and more.
If you want to find out where traffic is coming from on your site, Google Analytics is a great tool. You can also integrate Google Analytics with other resources such as MailChimp and social media.
Shopify is a popular eCommerce platform that startups can use to sell their products online.
If you’re trying to manage your tasks, Asana is free for teams of up to 15 people. It’s a great tool for collaboration and can be integrated with other resources such as email marketing and web analytics.
There are a lot of software solutions and tools available to help startups manage their businesses. It’s important to find the ones that work best for you and your business.
When you’re starting a business, it’s important to have a team of people you can rely on. Whether it’s your co-founder, your team of employees, or your freelance contractors, collaboration is key to success.
There are several ways to collaborate with others, such as using online tools like Slack or Google Drive, or meeting in person.
If you want to save some money as you start up (which I recommend), consider DIYing your social media designs and other graphics you may initially need using tools like Canva, RelayThat and Tailwind Designer.
Since there are so many resources available, it can be overwhelming when starting your own online business. You don’t need to know everything right away; in fact, you may not even end up using all of these tools or software solutions for your company. The key is to find the ones that work best for you and implement them strategically throughout the stages of building an online business – from initial idea to research and development.
The development phase is crucial to the success of your online business. If you’re feeling lost or uncertain about your next steps, know that you’re not alone. I’m here with you every step of the way and want to chat about this critical stage before launching a new venture – whether it’s an e-commerce site or a membership-based community.
To help ensure we cover all topics relevant for a successful startup, let me know what questions still need answering so we can brainstorm together on how to best support entrepreneurs during their journey from idea to launch day.
This blog post was written with my AI writing assistant, Jasper.
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