D4 makes the news again, this time with online business tips
Thinking of an online business? Here are tips from a pro
by John Dunlap 10/21/13 So you think you are ready to start an online business? This could be the smartest business move you’ve ever made. With U.S. online retail sales expected to reach $278.9 billion by 2015 (Forrester Research of Cambridge, MA), you could be missing out on a large revenue generating opportunity. Many savvy business owners are eager to start their own online business, but are unsure how to begin. Below are a few ingredients to starting an online business, the smart way. Easy market research A crucial element to starting an online business (or any business for that matter) is finding out if there is a market for your product or service. The Internet can make this kind of market research easy. With some Google searching, blog reading, and competitor shopping it can be easy to find out if anyone else is selling similar products, how they are doing it, who is buying them and what kind of consumer response they are getting. Did your findings encourage you to move forward? If they did, run the idea by a trusted colleague or friend. Another perspective from a trusted person is invaluable. Minimum Viable Product Have you heard of the expression, “Test the water before you jump in?” The strategy of developing a Minimum Viable Product is the Internet Geek equivalent of putting your toe into the water to see how warm/cold it is (read the best seller by Eric Ries called “Lean Startup” for more about MVPs). The MVP is intended to ensure that the market wants the product before a large time and monetary investment is made. So how can you test the water with your online store to see if it is warm? If your business already has a website, it might be as simple as adding a PayPal button on your existing website for users to buy the product. If it’s a completely new business you can create a Facebook page, YouTube video or a blog with a call-to-action that allows you to gauge interest. Collecting feedback from an initial subset of possible customers about your product or service allows you to “test the water.” In most cases this initial audience includes early adopters which are usually more forgiving, more likely to give feedback and able to grasp a product vision from an early prototype. Once you have this feedback, what do you do with it? Speed of iteration beats quality of iteration If your initial feedback is encouraging and you are motivated to proceed, in most cases the next step is to develop your website. Web development and creating a successful online business is an iterative process of idea generation, prototyping, presentation, feedback collection, analysis and learning. The process is iterated until a desirable product market fit is obtained, or until the product is deemed to be nonviable. In a competitive Internet marketplace, the speed of iteration is more important than the quality of iteration (for more information about speed of iteration, Google John Boyd’s OODA Loop, it is worth a read). A common iteration of an online business is to develop a custom website that optimizes the user experience and encourages users to take action. This means that the visual design, content, functionality and call-to-action are optimized for your target audience. Similar to a brick-and-mortar storefront, you have limited time to engage your visitors and convince them to take the desired action. In some cases the desired action is to purchase a product, in other cases it is to pick up the phone and speak with you. Regardless of the call-to-action, an experienced web design and Internet marketing company can help design and develop a website that optimizes the user experience and encourages users to take action. What next? Once you’ve got those early adopters interested in your product and aiding with product direction, the next step is to start converting potential users to passionate users. A user who has become invested in your product will recommend it to others and become an unofficial spokesperson for your product and brand. How do you convert potential users to passionate users? Give them the product they told you they wanted. The magic bullet Are these the magic bullets to creating a successful online business? No, but they do provide useful guidance to develop a product that an online audience will want and will use. The take away? Find what people want, build it and then build it better based on their feedback. Oh, and let’s not forget gradual hard work — there is no substitute for that. John Dunlap is the owner and chief web developer at D4 Advanced Media, a Reno web development and Internet marketing company. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (775) 636-9986.