So you want to start an online business but you’re not sure where to begin?
That’s not surprising. The internet is full of advice, some of it good, some not so good. How do you sort out the wheat from the chaff?
You’ll find lots of articles advising what to do. For example you may read somewhere that:
- You should start by buying the latest high specification computer
- You need a state-of-the-art home office
- You’ve got to write an “all-singing, all-dancing” business plan
- All you need is to register a domain, install WordPress, and start publishing content
- You should join a Mastermind group, network with others and then focus on joint ventures
- …. and so on.
The list can seem endless, expensive, and overwhelming. Some advice might just raise alarm bells in your mind. You know how it goes, “that sounds too good to be true.”
In reality, there are questions you need to ask yourself before you do or buy anything. They are questions that many solopreneurs wish they’d asked themselves before starting their businesses.
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And you may be surprised to know that they’re not governed so much by the “how” of starting a business online, as they are by the “why.”
Here are eight of the most critical questions for you to consider before you start an online business.
1. What is your passion?
Real passion, that is, not just something you once thought you might be interested in but now you’re not so sure. Something that catches your imagination, excites you, makes you come alive when you think about it.
Running and managing an online business sounds (and is) exciting, but it’s also hard work, and can be quite isolating. It takes stamina, determination, and persistence. Having a business in a niche you’re passionate about is critical if you’re to sustain long-term commitment and see your business succeed.
So think about it.
- What energizes you?
- What invigorates you?
- What would motivate you to carry on even when it’s difficult, or when you feel tired, or when you have the impression no-one cares about what you have to say?
Make sure your online business reflects your passion. Your fans, followers and customers will certainly latch on to your enthusiasm and reflect it straight back at you.
Don’t gloss over these questions. Take your time. Mull them over. Brainstorm yourself. And when you find your passion, hold onto it. Your creativity will flow, and your enthusiasm will help shape your influence in the online world.
2. Why are you different?
You may have decided where your passion lies, but there are likely to be many other websites and blogs covering the same subject.
Think about it. In time you’ll attract people to your site who have dozens of choices for other websites to visit. Your website will be competing for attention in a string of browser windows. How do you ensure your site is the one that stays open and active?
You’ll need to answer that question quickly and surely, before your audience—your potential customers—have the chance to hit the back or close button.
This is nothing to do with coming up with the next big idea. Having your own “Eureka” moment means working out what it is about you and your brand that adds value to the world. So what will make your site stand out from the crowd?
The short answer is simple — it’s you!
You are individual, and your perspective within your niche will be authentic. You have a story to tell, knowledge to impart. Your unique voice on your subject is what will set you apart.
It will give you the confidence not to become intimidated by the success of others. You’ll be fearless in your wish to communicate what you know, and that fearlessness will be a key your success.
So think about it. What is your story?
3. Do you have the foresight to listen to what your customers want?
You have passion. You have thought about your story. Now, you can’t wait to tell the world.
But wait just one moment. How much do you know about your potential customers? What are their most pressing issues? What are they most interested in learning about?
Some businesses fail because they solve the wrong problems. Imagine trying to sell a new and improved pencil sharpener to a group of digital artists. Oops!
On a niche website about dogs, you may write the most knowledgeable content about how to present your prize dog for showing, but if your audience wants to know how to teach a puppy how to use a crate, it will not be of much interest.
On an e-commerce shopping site you may have the most stunning jewelry on offer, but if it’s out of the financial reach of your client base, you will not sell it.
You may be the most highly accomplished dentist in your area, but if you talk about teeth whitening when your clients need to know how quickly they can get an appointment to cure their toothache, they will go elsewhere.
You might find certain topics interesting, but unless you’re meeting the needs and desires of your audience, your website is unlikely to attract return visits, and the products/services it eventually sells will remain unnoticed and unsold.
How do you know which is the most important content to write? How do you persuade your site visitors that you’re a person to be trusted to answer questions that are critically important to them?
The answer to this question too lies within you. Your passion about your subject must be communicated in well written, easily understood articles based on your knowledge of the subject and your customers. No doubt you will know some of the questions that need to be answered—after all, you have personal experience of the problems.
But you also need to have the confidence to know that your site visitors are the best people to ask about what it is they need, what solutions they’re looking for, what would make their life easier, or more enjoyable, or safer.
How to find out? Be wherever your customers are. Use the same social media they use, visit the same forums. And, once you have your website and you start to build loyal visitors, build your email list and ask them!
You don’t have all the answers—but they may be able to help you to help them!.
4. Do you want to build a business, or pursue a hobby?
The best websites begin with publishing well written, accurate, high quality content. There’s no fee, no catches. You are building loyalty and making your mark as an expert in your niche. You’ll delight in seeing your website grow, and the numbers of people visiting it increase month by month.
But publishing free content is not in itself a business. It’s the foundation for a business, certainly, but, even with the addition of a passive income stream such as Adsense, it will never make you a regular income.
For many people, that’s not a problem. Their website is a hobby, created simply to give them, and their readers, pleasure. Its purpose is not to make money but to communicate their passion about a particular subject to the world.
Other people know from the start that building an online business is exactly that—a business. They may enjoy it, and they hope their readers will too, but their goal is to create a sustainable profit.
There’s another group that falls between these two: would-be website owners who don’t really know which they want to be. They start writing as a hobby and, after some time, want to change tactics and become e-commerce business owners.
Which can, of course, be done. A website full of quality content is a good launching pad for selling because it likely has loyal and trusting followers.
The problem with this switch is that, if you give away content for free and without strings for any length of time, your visitors will become used to it. When they’re then asked to pay for the content you’ve decided you want to sell as a Kindle book, for example, it comes as a shock. And an audience who is shocked may not be inclined to buy.
So consider this question carefully. Which do you want? Try to project into the future. Do you genuinely not care about making money, so that for you, a hobby website would be fine? Or do you recognize that you want to be financially rewarded for the time you’ll spend writing content, answering questions on social media and writing newsletters?
5. Are you prepared to take risks?
You have your passion, unique voice and knowledge in place. You know you want to make a profit. Now ask yourself how prepared you are to take risks. Not risks with money—you don’t need to outlay a large amount of money to start an online business—but risks related to your own self-belief.
Why? Because one of the greatest uncertainties you’ll face in business is whether anyone will like what you have to offer, whether free content or paid products.
Even if you decide you want to run a business for profit, it’s easy once you’re in a routine of creating content to carry on doing it without ever offering something for sale. You’ve created a comfort zone, and it can be difficult to move outside it. You’ve spent a lot of time building content and engaging with your readers, your readers appreciate your passion—and you don’t want to fail.
It’s a fatal trap. If you’re building a business, it’s an issue you need to address head on.
Your first Kindle book may not be the best one ever. Your carefully painted silk scarves may sit on the shelf gathering dust. Your first yoga class may not be very well attended. But the sooner you put something out there, the more you learn and the closer you come to creating a sustainable business.
How do you avoid the mistakes? First, remember that your site visitors are a mine of information about what they want and need (see #3 above).
Second, and very importantly, accept that you will make mistakes. No-one’s perfect. Don’t use any failure as a reason to stop moving forward. Use it as a way of learning what works and what doesn’t. Next time, your product will be more appropriate, your content more focused.
6. How much time and energy can you invest?
Creating a website, if you’ve never done anything like it before, is a big undertaking. It involves a steep learning curve. There’s technology to be grappled with, hosting to be found, platforms to be understood.
Writing well researched, good quality content doesn’t happen overnight. It evolves over the weeks, months, and years of your website’s existence. It requires time and energy, and a big chunk of commitment.
Working from home is many people’s dream, and it can be your reality. But you need to ask yourself honestly how much time you have. Work out how best this can happen for you.
- Do you have a family? Can they help with tasks around the home which would normally fall to you? Do you have a spare hour (or more) during the day which you’d normally spend watching T.V.?
- Do you have a day job? Can you grab an extra hour by getting up earlier each day? Can you work on your business during your lunchtime? Are weekends available to you?
Do a self-audit. Take two or three typical days during one week, and log the time you spend doing different tasks. In particular, make a note of any time you have which is your own – even if it’s just an hour. You may be surprised by the opportunities you have.
Don’t be put off by what may look like a very short space. A successful website can be built from only an hour or two a week – it just takes longer.
But do be realistic about this. If your expectations are too high, it will be hard to sustain your passion and enjoyment.
7. What support can you rely on?
Remember: if you’re a one-person business, you’re about to be both a business owner and a member of your own workforce, quite often working in isolation. It can be lonely at times.
Don’t expect that everyone you know will automatically be pleased with your decision to start an online business, or be as enthusiastic about it as you are. They may not understand what you’re about to do, or they may understand and think it’s foolhardy. “How can you possibly think you’ll earn any money using your computer?” is a fairly common reaction among friends and family.
Family and friends are important, of course, and it’s crucial to have the conversation with them before you launch into the online world. How much do they understand of what you’re planning to do? How supportive are they of the fact that your time with them may become more limited than it has been previously? What practical household support can you expect?
Unfortunately, there will always be doubters. Your true close friends will always be there for you, but if you experience constant negativity, it may be time to change your support group. Their negative attitudes will undermine your confidence, wear down your optimism and make you doubt yourself. Starting any business is hard enough without having to deal with that.
Instead, find support from solopreneurs who are at a similar stage to you, and from others who have more experience and are further down the line. They will understand the struggles and celebrate the achievements. You’ll no longer feel you’re crazy for wanting an online business, and you’ll know that they’ll be there to share the struggles and goals, and to give advice and feedback when it’s needed.
So, surround yourself with a like-minded group of people you can relate to and who offer positive reinforcement. Post on forums, join platforms like Linkedin or Twitter to make connections, identify groups in a similar niche on Facebook.
Find encouragement in places like the Solo Build It! (SBI!) community, who will share your ups and downs, provide you with genuine support, and cheer you on when you most need it. And remember, you’ll be able to offer them support and encouragement in return.
8. Finally, how much belief do you have in yourself?
Make no mistake, there will be times when you think: “Maybe I don’t have what it takes, after all.” Someone may criticize your content; your product may not sell as well as you’d hoped; your family may complain that they never see you; your energy may wane.
At times like these, your mindset will be critical.
You need to know that not everything has to be perfect, first time round. Stop over-analyzing and procrastinating. Know you can rely on the support of others to help you through the difficult times. Most of all, have the confidence to keep moving forward.
If you’re sure of your passion, you know the unique voice you can present and what makes your site different, you have ambition and drive, and you can offer something to your audience that will make their life easier.
Roll up your sleeves. You’re ready to do some work.
We at SiteSell are here to support you in every step of your business building journey.