The internet has provided an immense opportunity for almost everyone to set-up and run a business online, but how do you set yourself apart and grow your online business sustainably?
As an accounting firm in London working with many SMEs, we have witnessed the tremendous opportunities that the internet has provided for our clients. It isn’t just a young person’s playground either – the assumption that only young entrepreneurs are making a name for themselves with successful web-based businesses isn’t true – there are many mature entrepreneurs behind successful web ventures too.
But what does it really take to build a successful online business? It may be safe to assume that many of you do not aim to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, instead you are just looking to make your online business a little more successful, considering 56.1% of the world’s population has internet access and potentially they can all reach you. Furthermore, there were 1.8 billion online shoppers across the globe in 2018 according to Statista.com and a large percentage of them might be your target audience depending on what you do and sell. In terms of global e-retail sales, the figures were equally staggering – coming in at US$2.8 trillion in 2018 and are expected to reach US$4.8 trillion in two years. So to be successful online, we are talking about having the ability to attract more new clients from near and far to your website and turn them into buying customers.
It is with this in mind that we want to share tips that we have learnt from successful online entrepreneurs who use them to grow their business online.
1. Passion versus good business
For many people, the first step into the world of online business is through a passion or a hobby – something they enjoy doing becomes something they ‘could’ make money at. But in reality, passion doesn’t always mean good business.
To make your online business a success, you’d need to invest time and effort in research and know your audience first. Then you need to produce a solid business plan detailing:
- How do you describe your business?
- What is the goal?
- How do you plan to sell your products or services?
- Who do you want to sell to?
- Why should they buy from you?
- How much do you plan to invest?
- How much will it cost you to produce the products (if applicable)?
- How long does it take to produce?
- How do you plan to reach your audience?
- How do you plan to fulfil orders?
- How much do you plan to make?
- What is your business forecast?
Most people focus on profits but taking control of business costs is imperative. Cash flow is another area that requires dedicated attention. Referring to the amount of money going into and coming out of a business, cash flow is the life force of a healthy business.
Turning your passion into a business requires practical guidance from like-minded entrepreneurs. So if you need assistance pertaining to your business plan and cash flow, speak to one of our chartered accountants for small business today.
2. Give your online presence an upgrade
We’d be remiss in not talking about ‘online presence’. What does that even mean? Well, similar to its sibling ‘brand presence’, online presence is all about how your business appears to others online.
Many SMEs developed their website years ago and haven’t given it much thought since then. Chances are, the dated look and feel will not instil confidence in your audience. If your website still has a 90s look, then it is time to give it an update, build a conversion funnel, perform A/B testing, and even refresh your content.
In this day and age, having a responsive site is a given because in 2018, 52.5% of website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones according to statista.com. Using good images to showcase your products is also a given. If using a professional photographer is not in your budget, consider buying stock photos.
3. Make your online presence about your customers
A website can be a great place to talk about your company and get across all of your great points, your accreditations and why you’re so brilliant. But when a website tips too far in the direction of self-congratulations, you can start to lose sight of the purpose for your website: the customers.
Regardless if your customer comes to your site to buy a pair of shoes, look for holiday ideas, or seek out a plumbing service they urgently need, they only give your website a couple of seconds to reassure them that you can address the issues they look to solve and meet their needs.
Website visitors are notoriously impatient and will go elsewhere if you don’t provide the right information on the right pages. So make your website about what your customers want from your business – not what you want to tell them about your business.
4. But don’t be afraid to show who you are (at the right time)
We did just say in the previous point that the website should be about the customers, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to know who they are buying a product or service from – it just needs to be in the right place and at the right time, meaning when they choose to find out who you are, they can get the information easily.
An ‘About Us’ page is the best place to tell a customer all about your business and establish the ‘trust’ between you and them. Tell them what sets you apart from your competitors, what are the values and principles driving your business, who is the person behind the business, what are your qualifications and credentials, to name but a few. If you have logos and certifications from trusted trade bodies and consumer watchdogs, display them prominently throughout the site too.
On product or service pages, you can also make use of icons or accordions (a vertically stacked list of items) to show information that can help to build trust between you and your customers.
5. Think landing pages
If you use Google Analytics, chances are you may see that most of your visitors don’t necessarily land on your home page and then use the menu bar to locate subpages.
For a large number of product and service sites, your potential customers come to a landing page first – landing pages are mini portals pertaining to a group of products or services and they usually funnel organic traffic to the right product or service page.
It must be said that landing pages need not just be directly offering products and services – they can also be offering an answer to a question that a potential customer is typing into their search engine of choice. So if a potential customer is asking a question about something that you provide, you want to be the one that answers their question to their satisfaction.
If you’d like to know more about landing pages and how you can make your website work smarter for you, follow the link to our Better Business page.
6. Social media
Many businesses are on social media, but not everyone can comfortably say that social media has been generating sales for them.
Social media is a catch-all term for a variety of apps and websites that serve the purpose of, essentially, allowing people to connect with another in a variety of ways. Every platform is different and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Some of these platforms allow you to build brand awareness and communicate products or services to potential customers (such as Facebook or Twitter), while others can allow you to communicate directly with customers in a modern way (such as WhatsApp or Snapchat), can act as a business registry (such as Yelp) or can help you connect to other businesses and influencers (such as LinkedIn).
Finding out which platform works for you requires research and analysis. Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, the shared commonality among them is they are platforms for you to build relationships with prospects and existing customers. These two words – build relationships – indicate time and effort, which means investment, so it pays to work out how much you want to invest and for how long. Also, like everything else, be mindful that social media is a tool and not a solution to growing your business online.
In our article “How to grow your business: social media”, we share the advantages and disadvantages of social media, as well as tips to grow your business on social media; follow the link and give it a read if you are interested in this subject.
7. Make use of ‘traditional’ media
While social media is on everyone’s radar, don’t ignore traditional media either – yes you heard that right. The thing is, over the years there has been a shift in the world of media – we are seeing more and more local or regional news portals springing up online – thanks to the accessibility and low financial barriers that allow local, citizen journalism to flourish. Many of these news portals are after community-based stories that could intrigue their readers.
Supporting these media outlets and community-based stories are often a good way to get the name of your business out there locally or regionally. At a time when internet boosts trading opportunities across borders, connecting with your local audience and building a strong community presence is more important than ever. This is because the local residents know that when they purchase from you, their money will be circulating locally and thereby allowing the local community to thrive. Moreover, because you are local, you may offer a genuine customer experience that other online giants may not have.
Tax Agility can help small businesses in London
At Tax Agility, we work with small business owners across London helping them to get their financial matters in order so they can focus on growing their business, online and offline. If you want an accountant who truly understands your small business, contact us today on 020 8108 0090 or get in touch via our contact us page to arrange a complimentary, no-obligation meeting.
Our areas of services include:
- Accounting and bookkeeping specific to small business
- Payroll services
- Management consultancy
When it comes to business growth, one thing to bear in mind is that there is no silver bullet and every business is unique. Also, change is a constant in the world of business. Online customers are particularly fickle, technologies are changing all the time, as are search engines and the way people use social media. Hence, it pays to stay lean and agile, so you can adapt quickly.
Best of luck to your online business.
If you found this helpful, take a look at:
- Why outsource your payroll administration
- Everything you need to know about corporate tax
- Accounting and bookkeeping for small business
- VAT specific to small business
This blog is a general summary. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance.