Business is booming. Don’t believe it? Then check out this statistic: every year across the world, there are over 300 million new startups.
There’s no better way to reclaim your freedom and set your own schedule than to start a business. You decide what you do with your time and what passion you pursue. But that doesn’t matter if you choose the wrong online platform.
Starting an online business is different from a brick-and-mortar store. Now, instead of worrying about deliveries and setting business hours, you have to worry about a digital storefront that is open 24/7.
Keep reading as we help you decide how to find the best online platform for you.
When Starting an Online Business, Consider Your Audience
So you’ve got some good Online Business Ideas. But the blessing and curse of using an online platform is you have unlimited freedom about how you run your business.
For example, you could use a simple storefront with Shopify. They give you some easy templates you can choose from, and you upload your products. But Shopify requires customers to have an account and may not be the first place customers look for your specific product.
You may sell custom-made jewelry. But then you discover that the audience on Shopify is looking for cheap, Chinese-manufactured jewelry. Instead, you may be better off using Etsy.
Or, you may have different needs, such as wanting to advertise your product with a full webpage. You would rather have a custom storefront with features that are absent on Etsy or Spotify. In that case, it would be better if you have your own website.
In short, you want to choose the website that best fits your audience. If you choose one your audience does not typically frequent, you may struggle to have consistent sales.
Types of Online Platforms You Can Choose from
Fortunately, you just have to have a basic knowledge of what each platform does. Many of the below platforms cater to a very specific type of audience. Here are examples of a few:
- Facebook Marketplace: ideal for selling used things in your local community
- eBay: perfect for reselling and selling used items to the national and international community
- WooCommerce: allows you to create your own storefront on your own website
- Amazon: reselling to a broad audience, ideally if you want Amazon fulfillment shipping
Don’t Neglect Social Media
The ways to start a business are plentiful, but so are the social media platforms you should be using. You should be using these in tandem with your preferred e-commerce platform.
The same rule as above applies here. You need to find where your audience spends the most time. If you’re selling makeup to the Gen Z crowd, then you won’t have much luck on Facebook. Instead, TikTok and Instagram will be far more effective.
There are a lot of niche communities that continue to use “outdated” social media websites. For example, you may find the gun community is thriving on Facebook and old 90s-style forms. Just because modern technology is better in some ways doesn’t mean your audience has relocated there.
In addition to this, you need to standardize everything across the board. If you make announcements on one platform, you should do so on other platforms. Make it impossible for your customers to miss important announcements.
As important as your e-commerce front is, people often learn about deals and sales from social media. If you only send out those notifications via email through your e-commerce provider, you may have less success.
Research Your Competitors
It may seem underhanded or immoral to do market research. But understand that this is the bedrock of many industries. They keep close watch over all of their competitors, ensuring that they are never outcompeted by surprise.
Market research is a long, tricky process. It’s a mixture of gauging the success of your own products while getting a feel for the products of your competitors. Many companies spend millions of dollars on market research.
For example, you may hire a proxy service to visit your website (or your competitor’s website) to get insights. This allows you to find organic feedback rather than if you were visiting the website from your own IP address.
Conducting Market Analysis
All of that research you have gathered is useless unless you analyze it. But thanks to AI tools in the modern age, it is easy to assess this data. The AI can produce useful correlations and predict market trends.
This can and should be a tool that you use going forward to make new decisions. If you are considering a new campaign, do some market research. Get an idea of what customers are thinking and what your competitors are doing.
A great example comes from the game industry. You will often see games go on sale for all the major platforms. This will happen at the same time.
To stay competitive, other companies will launch their own sales during specific seasons. Without market research, they would not know about these upcoming sales. Then they would be left in the dust during prime time.
Take a Page Out Of Their Book for Social Media Engagement
You can learn a lot about how to use social media from your competitors, too. Just like with market research, follow their social media pages. Study how they interact with hashtags, customer comments, and posts.
Many companies have a social media team that manages their online presence. It’s the duty of the social media team to make sure you avoid controversy and scandal. They are the ones who respond in a diplomatic way to angry customers.
Looking at your competitor’s website gives you some creative ideas, too. There’s nothing wrong with taking their posts as inspiration. You could even respond to things they say to drive customer engagement.
An excellent example of this was the Wendy’s Twitter manager several years ago. She would respond in snarky, humorous ways to rude customers and competitors. It drove up engagement, putting a lot of eyeballs on Wendy’s products.
Consider How You’re Going to Advertise
If you are about to start a business, people don’t know about you. Your products or services may be completely unknown to the audience you intent to sell to. This is a difficult place to start, even if you have good business ideas.
Business builds on top of business, i.e. successful sales lead to more successful sales. Customers tell their friends about your product. It creates this loop that creates more and more new customers with each passing month.
But before you can reach that snowball effect, you will need to build a solid customer base to start with. The best way to do this is with advertisements. Advertisements pitch business to brand-new customers who might not happen upon you.
As luck would have it, AI allows you to reach only those interested in your business, and no one else. Depending on the company you choose, they can push ads to your customers on an individual level. This means you can stretch your advertising dollars further.
However, you will have to decide which advertising firms to use. You will need to choose where to distribute the ads. Since you have to stay on budget and on target, you cannot just shotgun the web with advertisements.
Choose Platforms That Suggest Your Products to Customers
You will need some sort of advertising budget. But if you want to maximize your money, you should choose a website with a capable recommendation system.
If you use Amazon, you can see an example of this. Near the bottom of the product page, Amazon will display similar and recommended products. This will be the primary avenue that customers use to discover your product.
Think of the recommended tab as free advertising. Of course, it comes included in the subscription you pay. But it’s a nice added benefit to boost product visibility.
Choose Platforms That Are Easy to Redirect to
It’s unlikely that you will be using a platform that provides advertising services. Instead, you will be using a major provider like Google Ads.
You want your customers to have no trouble once they click on the ad. The link should take them directly to your home or product page. Any intermediary pages should be limited, or nonexistent.
Some websites can have problematic redirects. They may have short links that browsers struggle with. There may be slow load times as they are redirected through several websites.
Choose a platform that gives you tools for easy redirection from ads to your website. You want a smooth, painless process for your customers to arrive on your homepage.
Be Careful When Using Multiple Platforms
It’s very rare that you would use only one platform for your e-commerce website. You can cast a wider net and capture more sales if you have multiple. But this presents a problem: discrepancies in your inventory.
For example, somebody purchases your product on eBay. But around the same time, somebody purchases the same exact product on Shopify. If you only have one left in stock, this could make for some very unhappy customers.
You will need online inventory management software. This keeps your inventory up-to-date across your platforms. It can resolve discrepancies (although they are unlikely) that may arise from time to time.
Choose Platforms That Make Collaboration Easy
Some platforms want to while you into their ecosystem. After all, it’s not good business for them if you use other platforms over them. They want you to sell as much as possible on their platform so they get the largest cut.
If you notice these anticompetitive practices in your platform, consider choosing another. These practices may interfere with inventory management software or advertising efforts.
Find a Balance With Advertising
If you’re selling on multiple platforms, you will have to make adjustments to your advertising campaign. After all, you want to redirect customers to all your platforms. Realistically, you can only redirect to one at a time.
You want to make sure customers reach both of your e-commerce platforms equally. Or, redirect them to the e-commerce platform that they are most likely to use. For example, an ad on Amazon Prime should link to your Amazon storefront.
Which platform you redirect them to depends on the fees, commission, and overall success of that platform. In most cases you will have a main platform for most of your business, will smaller platforms on the side.
Find an E-Commerce Platform with Low Commission Fees
Unless you run your own website, you will have to give a portion of all sales to your e-commerce provider. The only way to get around this is to have a business subscription.
Some companies have opaque commission structure descriptions. You may discover that they are taking more than you realize. Look for providers that have transparent transaction fees and commissions.
If you choose to go for the subscription plan, take careful note of how many sales you make per month. If you make hundreds of sales per month, then this will be a reasonable proposition. But if you only make a handful as a side hustle, then you are losing money.
Find Platforms with Excellent Customer Service
Things will eventually go wrong. You want to be sure you are in good hands before you set up an entire storefront. Take careful note of how your platform services your needs.
If they give prompt, useful feedback, then that is a platform you want to stick with. But if it takes many calls and long wait times on the phone, then you might be better off elsewhere.
Start an Online Business Today
Starting an online business will be a far cry from having a similar business in a physical location. While you have advantages such as minimizing staffing and saving on leases, you do have to handle new challenges such as working out advertising. Keep the above tips in mind as you build your dream business.
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