The good news? Modern tech makes it easier than ever to know how to start an online business, and many ways to get your company online are free. This guide will show you how to put your business online in a few easy steps. Some, like a quick Wix or Weebly website, take very little time and money.
Here are the steps to starting an online business – one that customers will find.
1. Get into Google My Business (10 minutes, free)
“We didn’t know you were here!” Putting your business online can take as little as two minutes. A Google My Business listing isn’t a website, but it is a tip to search engines that your company exists. It’ll put you on the map (Google Maps, that is) and in local searches with your phone number and address.
Getting listed is free and fast. Just visit the Google My Business page. If you don’t already have a Google account, create one and then enter your company’s contact info. You can also set up how your firm will appear in Google Maps, and choose a business category. It’s quick and painless, and it’ll drive traffic to your online business or brick-and-mortar shop for years.
Don’t stop with just one online directory though. You can also sign up for Yahoo! Local, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor, and other local listing services. Don’t want to waste time on the small stuff? Think again. More than 600 million people every month use Yahoo’s search engine. And it takes less than an hour to write several listings.
2. Make a website (2 hours to 2 weeks, prices vary)
To many who are starting an online business, the thought of creating a website can be daunting. Too many of us have been stuck in the swamp of coding or customizing complex WordPress themes. But website creation doesn’t have to be a chore. You also don’t necessarily need a web development team.
Today, several out-of-the-box options can get your online business up and running in a flash. Wix powers more than 150 million websites. It’s jammed with hundreds of eye-catching templates and it’s easy to set up with a fast drag-and-drop editor. Plus, its app market has powerful tools to help with building an online business. It’s got great landing page templates, too.
Other online business website builders
Not sold on Wix? Look into Duda, Weebly, and Squarespace. If you’ll sell physical merchandise online, both Shopify and BigCommerce make it easy to get started. If you sell a service or run a SaaS, consider a WordPress site (they’re easier than ever). And if you have funding, consider hiring a designer.
A successful business website should have a logo, contact info, business information, testimonials, and several landing pages. Want to dig into a few great website builders? See the HP Tech Takes guide to the Best Website Builders.
3. Get customers with email marketing (2 hours to 2 weeks)
“No one opens junk email.” That’s actually not true. While most of us dodge the spam, research shows a 3800% ROI for email marketing. Don’t know how to start? Don’t worry. There are dozens of great prepackaged options out there.
OmniSend and ActiveCampaign are two great ways to put your online business email sales on autopilot. They come complete with easy drag-and-drop editors, templates, forms, and eye-pleasing design elements to ramp up your conversions. Some, like Tidio, include a free chatbot or landing-page builder for an interactive experience.
How can you obtain email addresses?
You’ll need at least a simple website with a signup form to harvest emails (see step 2 above)
Create a tempting offer and a written elevator pitch
Send it (and your web form link) to people in your contacts first
Push your pitch out through social media posts, especially in LinkedIn and Facebook groups that fit your target market
You can also buy ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and in Google AdWords
That’s the small stuff. Let’s move on to the regular, weekly work of how to put your business online.
4. Give value to bloggers (3 hours per week)
Starting an online business is a game of eyeballs. The more you have looking at your site, the bigger your returns. It takes time to build an audience, but that’s where bloggers come in handy. Bloggers have ready-made followings, and they always need content.
To take advantage of this powerful online resource, find blogs in your target market, then learn who writes them. Connect by email, their online form, or LinkedIn. Offer something of value for their blog, like tips, quotes, or an interview with information for an article.
If you’re struggling to drum up interest, go to the source with an account on Help a reporter (Haro). It puts bloggers and journalists in touch with subject matter experts. This technique is fast to start, but the ongoing collaboration takes time. The quickest route to ROI here is only giving interviews to bloggers with audiences in your niche.
5. Find customers on social media (3 hours a week)
Social media can be a massive time drain, but it doesn’t have to be. New online tools automate the process. With Buffer, Hootsuite, Workflow, and other great services, you can schedule posts across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more from a single dashboard.
You can also start a Facebook or LinkedIn group, or join an existing one. There are 10 million Facebook groups with 1.4 billion engaged members. That’s a lot of free advertising for starting an online business, and all it takes is finding the right groups and posting the right way.
Online business LinkedIn tips
Never be a spammer, and never just shill your product. Ask open-ended and short questions, and offer something of value every time you post. According to Larissa Haynes, the co-host of the Make Work Human podcast, the truly great social media posts open with a question, tell a story, and give away expertise for free.
“Start with a strong call to engage (CTE) and use up to 6 hashtags,” says Haynes. And don’t forget to engage with others too. “When you engage with other people's content, they’ll get to know you and be more inclined to engage in return,” she adds. “Also, when people comment on your posts respond to each comment.” Get more online business social media tips: 3 Social Networks Designed for Business.
6. Make YouTube tutorials (5 hours per week)
You’ve probably heard of “YouTube University.” Well, it’s a great way to connect with customers. YouTube videos can rank more easily than regular web content. If you share interesting and helpful info, you can break into underserved topics without a big budget or much production cost. A simple talking-head video made on a phone can pull in as many customers as a studio-produced, big-money advertisement.
To make YouTube videos that rank, don’t be afraid to give away some value. Consultants who share secrets in video form can leave potential clients hungry for more. To find topics, seek other “vloggers” in your niche, sort their content into “Most Popular,” and write down any ideas you can run with.
Find the right topics
Identify topics without a lot of competition by searching for them in Google. The search engine will show how many results it found for each. Look for ones with less “about” results than the rest. Then make helpful tutorials for them, and upload your work to YouTube.
If you know your stuff and you’re good on camera, you can make a short, useful tutorial each week in just a few hours. Need more tips to rank high in YouTube? There’s a great YouTube online business tutorial guide here.
7. Drive traffic to your online business (8+ hours per week)
Plenty of experts say knowing how to put your business online means writing content for your website. That’s not an easy strategy if you don’t have a full-time content team in place. To drive real web traffic to your small online business with written articles, take a laser-focused approach.
First, write two kinds of articles: one for link-building and the other for traffic.
Link-building articles don’t bring in customers, but they get Google to respect your site by luring other webmasters to link to your site. They’re well-researched, informative, and insightful articles that experts want to link to. Once you’ve written a few, you can show them to experts who have websites or simply publish them and wait.
For an added boost, interview industry gurus from the start who you think might link to you. This works especially well if they’ve got something to sell, like a book or service.
Write for traffic – or pay for it
Once you’ve written a few “Google respect” articles, write traffic pieces. With so much competition. You’ll have to outdo the articles that already cover your topics, and that’s not easy. Look for help ranking high in Google at Search Engine Land.
The key is to make your content helpful, packed with great advice, and better than what’s already out there. You can get a jump on building links by writing an article or two for Medium or answering questions on Quora. Many new businesses online also make an end-run around the web traffic game by paying for ads. A pay-per-click (PPC) campaign is easier than writing, but it comes with its own costs.
Knowing how to put your business online starts with choosing your priorities. Go for low-hanging fruit first, like getting into Google My Business and other directories. Then use prepackaged tools like Wix and OmniSend to make a simple website and start an email campaign.
Once those steps are in place, evaluate your marketing time each week. Spend it on a mix of social media, YouTube tutorials, and blogging that fits your company. Follow these tips, and you’ll get your business online quicker than you may think.
About the Author
Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP® Tech@Work. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.
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