Being an entrepreneur – a business originator – always takes hard work and passion; it takes technical know-how, judgment, and common sense. This is the case whether you want to start a traditional business or an online business. The Internet makes being an entrepreneur more possible for more people, but what is an online entrepreneur? The technicalities are a bit different from those of a traditional business, but a lot of the ideas are the same.
General Entrepreneurial Skills
Even though the Internet does level the playing field, it still helps to have some basic business skills. To make a profit, you have to effectively market and sell something – just as you would if you started a traditional business. Consider taking relevant online courses, which are almost always more convenient and less expensive than traditional courses.
Many online education sites offer videos and courses about business and marketing either for free or at a very manageable price. Udemy, for example, is a great site to look at for relevant courses in these areas. In truth, if you carefully learn the relevant free material from these sites (and any others you find with a search engine), you will likely know more than you think. Still, you might have to pay for more specialized knowledge as you work to progress in your career, but at that point, it should be worth it.
Why the Internet Is a Unique Business Environment
Many of the above site have courses specifically for Internet business and marketing. If you are sure that you want your business to be predominantly or entirely online, then quickly move to these, once you know the business basics. The Internet is a different medium and it requires some technical skills that are different from those needed for traditional business. However, once you understand the online landscape, you will find that the Internet is actually a more open environment for new businesses.
Web development and computer coding skills are very helpful to building a website that you can monetize. (Monetization is the process of making a website or other entity worth money.) You can purchase services to help you build a website and to act as a web host for your site – ideal if you have little to no expertise in these areas. However, most people get to a point where they want more power over websites. However, to have this power, you have to have some mastery of computer programming and html (Hypertext Markup Language – the language of the Internet). If you cannot imagine having such skills yourself, consider partnering with someone who either already has these skills or is interested in learning. Conveniently, you can find computer programming and web development courses on the same educational website mentioned above, too.
Most internet advertising is related in some way to search engines. A large or well-established business might pay for priority on a search engine, but, as a beginner, you can use keywords and other methods to improve your search engine rating. (A higher rating means that your site will tend to appear before other sites in a results list.) One of the best ways to improve your rating is to provide helpful information that makes other sites decide to link to your site. This is one of the many ways that the online environment arguably more equal-opportunity than other platforms.
How to Get Started
Once you have a basic idea of how to market a product or service online, you are ready to decide what you want to market. You probably already have an idea – this is likely why you started learning about online marketing in the first place, but be prepared to change your mind a little bit as you learn more. Consider an internship in internet marketing: you can quickly find options by typing internet marketing internship into a search engine.
Keeping your idea in mind, do some keyword research. There are websites to help you do this, but to get started, all you really have to do is take your idea and type some relevant words into a search engine (Google, Bing, YouTube, etc.). The auto-correct/suggest feature will provide you with popular searches. You might find a business idea you never would have thought of. This is a great way to refine your business goals to better fit the market. To get the full benefit of keyword research, use the keywords you find in your webpages, because these words help search engines match your content with people who are looking for your content. This is actually a very large area called search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM). As you might imagine, you can find courses on SEO and SEM on many of the educational sites above.
If you would like more details about consumer demands and current businesses in the United States, look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a very comprehensive source of business and market data – if you can sort through it, you might find yet more ways to refine your business goal to match the market. Also, this is a great source if you already have a business (online or otherwise) but would like to see if you can grow or change to meet market demands.
Once you have a sense of what people are looking for and have refined your product or service accordingly, you are ready to draw up a business plan. A business plan is a summary of your business’s goals and its proposed approaches to reaching these goals; it is basically a summary of what your business is.
The process of writing a business plan is a great thought exercise for the entrepreneur – it might make you see a problem (or solution) that you would not notice otherwise. Also, a business plan keeps you on track: it helps you be aware of what you are doing and whether or not you are staying true to your mission; if you are not, it forces you to step back and consider why you are changing your direction. (You might find that you edit your business plan along the way.)
Furthermore, a business plan is helpful if you want to encourage people to invest in your business. For advice about writing a business plan and other great advice, look at the Entrepreneur website.
Obviously, there is setting up the website itself: you must get a domain (the first part of a web address) and a host. Many companies that act as domain registrars can also be web hosts. For example, WordPress is a great site for budding online entrepreneurs, because it can act as a web host and domain provider; however, when/if you know more, it allows you to be your own host and to get your own domain.
How to Progress
If your online business seems to be working, you might want to try more advanced advertising techniques to get more business and further monetize your website. Consider getting paid advertising with Google Ads or the equivalent on another search engine. Generally, you pay on a pay-per-click (PPC) or pay-per-impression (PPI) basis. PPI is usually priced in units of a 1,000 views.
Realize that first sales are the hardest (the same as with traditional businesses): once you have fought for those first sales, the same customers are likely to come back – these are called back-end sales. Another commonly used powerful technique is upselling; that is, encouraging upgrades or relevant additions to a customer’s purchase. If customers find your upselling beneficial, they are even more likely to come back and/or review you favorably on social media.
Another way to manage and track happy customers is to give them an opt-in option; that is, allow them to subscribe to your site by email. This gives you a chance to better focus on a customer group that is truly interested in what you have to offer, so that you can further meet their needs.
What to Do If You Do Not Succeed
If things do not seem to be working, do not give up. Instead, back up: consider where you might have gone wrong. Perhaps when you asked the question, “What is an online entrepreneur?” the only answer in your mind was, “Me!” Maybe ambition made you push forward too quickly without considering whether the product you were passionate about would really sell. Perhaps you lacked technical expertise in some area. Perhaps you need someone else’s perspective. Ironically, naysayers can be helpful: Is there an area in which people have repeatedly criticized your online business pursuit? Can you do anything about this weakness?
Almost Anyone Can Do This
Learning new skills and imitating others who have succeeded are great ways to get ahead. However, realize that the question of what is an online entrepreneur has no firm answer: There is so much room for innovation and novelty. As social media and the Internet continue to grow and change, the opportunity to make your mark on the online market will only expand.