We all love the idea of starting an online or physical business.

With so many people working from home and ‘Making a go’ of it and seemingly making a fortune too. It is tempting to think it’s easy to make a fast buck- that may be true for a very few people but, in reality – it’s you fighting against the tide of maybe, redundancy, child care, caring for your parents or even a loved one – How on earth do you navigate through the sometimes overwhelming world of retail and the world wide web?

Here’s my advice gleaned from establishing and selling (at a profit) three successful online businesses in the past year and dealing with hundreds of customers in the brick and mortar business and of course building over 3000 websites over the past 10 years or so.

Don’t put your idea in front of friends and family, they love you (hopefully) and want to support you so will rarely say your idea is crapola, especially if it’s something they don’t actually get, literally none of my family ‘get’ what I do – just look at the contestants auditioning talent shows  – yup, their Mommy loves them and thinks they are the best singer, dancer, performer in the world and then…. BANG! Their world comes crashing down when it is pretty clear that they can’t hold a tune or have two left feet right?

I want to Start a business, but I don’t want anyone to steal my great idea?

Fine, then you will never get anywhere – yes, telling people about your idea can lead to someone copying it – guess what – they also have to implement it and may not have thought it through quite as well as you – so, talk about it, get it right and then launch. But before you do any of the launching stuff do this:

Make sure you have the funds to invest  – research costs like Branding, web development, hosting of the site, email marketing, digital advertising and if it is a local business or somewhere that needs a premises, rent, rates, local taxes, access, parking, maintenance and fit out – think about leaflet distribution, business cards, product brochures, distribution if delivering (applies to websites too) and staffing – you will need help eventually because you are going to be a success – right? – add people into your budget – its surprising how much they cost ?

Ensure you have enough time to do what you need to do to get your idea or project out to the masses.

Develop your brand – its not just about a logo – how do you want people to feel when they look at your brand – buying stuff off people or websites is all about trust too, build a brand that people can trust – its about your story – and no – its not about ‘A busy Mum’ invents a way to get Dad to take out the bins without even asking. It is about solving problems

If you’re building a website – make a budget so that you can at least get a good design together that is on Brand, tell your brand story – not necessarily your story – What is your unique selling point, why should people buy from you, how do you do things differently – remember, its all about building trust.

Get a great domain name – with billions of web addresses already registered, it’s tough to get THE name you want – – Think of Ocado in the UK, or Accenture, or even APPLE – do these names tell you immediately what they do – of course not – they are just names – the brand is built around the names for sure – but who would have guessed Apple make computers and phones, Ocado is one of the biggest home grocery networks in the UK and Accenture is a multi billion Management Consultancy corporation. So, what is in a name? – only you can decide.

Look around you and see what your competitors or potential competitors do and do well.

Even more importantly, look at what they do badly and think of how you could potentially do it better.

Could you spend hours on line answering queries via Facebook or an online chat bot, do you think you have the patience to answer questions that if only people took the time to read your FAQ they would get instantly – what about your product or services descriptions – are they extensive or vague – do you have a video telling people the benefits of you or your products/services?

If you are offering services, is your pricing flexible or fixed, if you are offering software products, do you have a free trial or a great refund policy. If you are selling clothes, fashion items or accessories, do you offer a no quibble refund policy – remember, most people when ordering clothes online  order two or three sizes, colours and styles knowing they can send them back and get a refund – this can fool you into a false sense of security and then WHAM! You are hit with more refunds than sales and before you know it – you have negative cash flow.

Are you using a fulfilment house like printful – if you are, make sure their refund policy doesn’t cost you money – ensure that you can refund on faulty products and late delivery.

How are you going to take payments? – If you are in a physical location you are going to have to think about a card reader, a till for cash, a Point of Sale system that helps you keep track of sales and stock, a pre ordering system that can help you manage stock even when you don’t have it in your location.

Solutions like Stripe and PayPal are there to help you get money in – yes, on the face of it they look expensive – but, you don’t need to have PCI compliance when taking online payments like this – or even using their own card readers.

If you are building a website yourself, you can use WordPress and any number of popular cart systems – some like Thrive Cart, some like Woocommerce and some like a simple buy now button that links directly to Paypal or Stripe – the choice is literally endless.

Take some time to research and find yourself a friendly web developer who is agnostic as far as solutions are concerned and even think about paying them an hour or two for some advice. I prefer Shopify for E-commerce, its cost effective and cost manageable. Yes, we use Woocommerce and other solutions but with annual renewals on expensive plugins and additions coming to around $1,000 a year, Shopify will always be my first choice as all costs include hosting, add ons and they offer a really slick solution for payments, refunds, upsells and abandoned carts – it is just too easy for me and my clients.?  

Think about future marketing opportunities – providing great content is not easy but, its a lot easier if you have a plan – The Content Planning ToolKit is now my go to solution for getting my content together – take a look – its unbelievable value at just $27.00

Privacy is a concern and I see an awful lot of websites that don’t have a privacy policy or seemingly do not care. Clients often come to me not knowing the basic rules of privacy – basically, you cannot share your customer self-identifying data with anyone unless they are a payment provider, a logistics provider or an email marketing service and then, there are restrictions, remember, privacy is just as much about you as your customers. It is your duty as a service provider to protect your customers data as much as your own. I use Termageddon – there are others out there but really, this solution is the best there is and is auto updating too – so, you never need worry about compliance – globally.

Get yourself a good accountant that acts more like a business advisor – yes, your brother, sister, Mom can do the books, but, what about tax, what about claiming R&D research benefits what about cash flow plans etc, etc, a good accountant will pay you back in so many different ways. I know ours does.

Join a networking group that aligns with your desire to start a business. There are hundreds out there so choose carefully. Soon, you will find the right people and make friends and acquaintances that are happy to give great advice. Get a business coach. I coach people (I am full up now) and it is a great feeling to see people grow their businesses off the back of my advice and counsel.

In Summary, think long and hard about your business idea before going out into the wild, get advice from your peers – not your family – unless they are truly successful entrepreneurs who won’t hold back on hard advice.

Develop your brand and your brand story.

Source reliable and trustworthy suppliers be they Accountants, Freelancers, creative agencies or business people and make sure you have your story first. Having a vague idea is just not good enough.

I hope this advice has been useful and I wish you all the luck in the world as that is one thing I didn’t mention – I know in my heart of hearts that I have been lucky in my business ventures – both of the bad kind and the good kind – but, good luck won’t help you stay late into the night fulfilling orders; Determination, a sense of right and knowing that you have made the correct decision to conquer your world – will.

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Andrew Palmer
Andrew is the founder of Elegant Marketplace.