It can be super exciting to get started with your own online business. You get to work from home, you can work at your own pace, and, most importantly, you can start right away without major overheads. Roughly ⅔ of Americans engage in online shopping, so that’s a huge potential user base for something that seems so easy to set up.
Of course, it’s not that easy: there’s more to it than just getting started and instantly profiting.
You’ve got to get the beginning right.
You’ve got to scale correctly as the business grows.
You have to plan for anything that might happen in the future.
If you mess up any of those steps, you’ll be crippling your business. Sometimes it permanently hurts business, other times it’s just temporary, but both situations are bad news regardless.
So, how do you manage an online business correctly?
What steps should you take when starting out? What should you look out for as you start scaling, and what do you need to worry about in the future? What’s different with an online business compared to a physical one? How do you know when to change something versus just staying the course?
While we can’t answer your specific problems in one individual article, we can outline the 15 mistakes that most online business owners make and how to avoid them.
Starting A Business That You Aren’t Committed To
Businesses might ultimately be about the money, but if you aren’t interested in what you’re selling, you won’t be able to work at your full potential. A passion project that’s making a bit of money is much better than a project you couldn’t care less about, despite making a decent amount of money.
If you enjoy the work that you’re doing, you’ll be able to stick with it when profits aren’t high and steer it to new heights. However, if you actively dread your work, the business will stall and eventually fail because you won’t want to put in the effort required.
The learning process needs to be a recreational activity rather than homework. You want to learn everything there is to know about your business and have the desire to make it work, even when it seems like things are beginning to crumble. Every big business has had its ups and downs, but if their owners had quit at the first hurdle, those successes would never have existed.
You shouldn’t start an online business just because it’s easy to start. A passionate business owner is making “free” money, and will keep making free money, whereas a “forced” business owner is laboring for their money, and will quit when something “better” comes up.
Taking Too Long To Get Going
Lots of business is based on timing. Get the timing right, and your business will surge in popularity. Get it wrong, and your business might be dead before it’s gotten started. That can mean that waiting a little while before starting the business can end up being more profitable in the end.
Of course, you can also end up waiting too long and going nowhere because of it. You don’t need perfect timing, “good enough” will do just fine. A business that starts at a “good” time has much longer to develop and get better than a business that starts at the “perfect” time and is less refined because of it. Also, you risk missing the last “good” period the longer you wait, as almost everything has a certain period of relevance, and a business that launches at a time where its service is irrelevant won’t do well.
Even without the relevant time frame itself, the longer you wait, the more likely it is a competitor will either become a threat or completely dominate the scene. Competition is a good thing for consumers, but if it’s so powerful that it practically owns the industry, you won’t be able to get the foothold you need to potentially beat them out and thus you can no longer afford to start the business.
Basically, don’t wait for the perfect moment, and don’t wait for too long. Both of these can lead to a complete business failure, and at the very least, they’ll impact your profit for years to come in a negative way.
Creating A Business That Solves A Non-Problem
We all have awesome ideas from time to time. But even if those ideas are objectively awesome, if they don’t solve a problem that people care about, they’re unlikely to succeed. Sure, that new-fangled sandwich holder for your face might theoretically solve a problem, but many would argue that most people don’t have a problem with holding their sandwiches in the first place. And even if they did, most people would come up with a homebrew solution before resorting to commercial products.
Of course, sometimes you solve an actual problem, but that problem isn’t often perceived that way. If that’s the case, you might be able to potentially pivot and make your solution more relevant to your customers. However, if you refuse to pivot when the chance arises, your non-solution will still be perceived as a gimmick regardless of its objective status. As the saying goes, “The customer is always right”, and while this shouldn’t be taken literally, for a business’s overall operation, it’s wise to think about catering to your customers’ wants.
Confidence is a good trait. However, too much can turn it into a bad one. If your customers are reporting issues with your business, take that feedback to heart. Of course, not all of it should be considered, but if it seems like there’s a common problem amongst your user base, it’s a problem that should be rectified if reasonable.
Most customers put a lot of value into other customers’ reviews, so if there’s a common complaint, you can guarantee that potential new customers will be wary. However, if they see that the complaint has been resolved, they’ll be much more interested in your business.
Negative feedback can hurt, but it’s valuable for your company. You understand your customers better, you can tweak the product to their liking, and you gain a reputation for having great customer service if you listen. You usually should outright encourage feedback in every avenue that it makes sense to, and make sure that those avenues exist if they don’t already. A simple survey or rating system may be “good enough”, and many services offer these by default, but don’t be afraid to implement more complex avenues for customers to provide their feedback in depth.
Not Having A Niche
If you’re tackling a competitive area, being “better” than the competition isn’t enough on its own. You need to do something unique, something that’ll sell customers. For example, Google got ahead of Yahoo by offering their services for free, and Netflix got ahead of other streaming platforms by being a universal solution for movies and TV shows at a decent price.
Customers’ time is valuable, and they won’t bother going through the hoops of switching if they don’t have a reason to. Many business owners think that simply operating more efficiently or selling at lower prices is enough on its own, and it’s just not.
Trying to Target Everyone
Many businesses have tried to target “everyone” and most of those businesses fail. If you try to target everyone, you can’t cater to specific audiences. If you can’t cater to specific audiences, nobody will be completely satisfied.
Something you can do is plan your business around a specific demographic and stick to it so that all of your customers are guaranteed to be satisfied and thus more likely to return or continue.
Of course, you shouldn’t specifically exclude people, but your marketing efforts will be much more efficient if one group of people has a significantly higher “catch” rate. If your marketing is generic, you miss every opportunity that involves specific groups, and those opportunities can often keep your business afloat by themselves by creating a niche.
Think about the difference between a Walmart and a hobby store, like Michael’s. Sure, the Walmart might have some of the same things as that hobby store, and might even offer better deals, but a dedicated hobbyist will go to the hobby store because everything is relevant to them rather than just some of it and it’s easier for them to find what they’re looking for, especially if they want something specific. Additionally, that hobbyist is likely to return in the future if they find what they’re looking for the first time.
Trying To Target Too Few
I just mentioned how trying to target everyone is a poor idea, but the opposite is also true. If your marketing and product cater to too specific of a niche, you simply won’t have enough customers. Theoretically, you could have a 100% client acquisition rate, where every person that you market to becomes a customer, but if that only equals a handful of customers, it won’t be enough to maintain a profit.
So, how do you avoid becoming too niche?
First, carefully consider the demand for whatever your business is doing. If it’s a passion project that very few people care about, it’s probably a bad idea.
Next, use search engines (particularly Google) and see how important keywords for your business rank. This could include the name of the business, the type of service, the target demographic, etc, but if nobody is searching for relevant keywords, ultimately nobody will find your business.
Finally, just follow a general rule of thumb with adjectives: if you have to use too many (usually over 4 or 5) unrelated adjectives to describe your ideal customer (e.g. white men that are above 18 years old who fly planes and collect train models), you’re probably being too specific.
Being your own boss is a great way to work. However, it can also be your ruin if you lack discipline. While it might not be great having someone bark down at you from above, at the very least you know exactly what you need to be doing, and will do it in order to keep your job. When you’re your own boss, you can do whatever you want, including exactly what you shouldn’t be doing.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t take breaks and flex your schedule every once in a while, but you should definitely be sticking to a schedule regularly. Even though you can technically work in pajamas, you might find that office clothes or something a little more professional is necessary for you to feel and act productively. Even though you can literally just skip a workday, you’ll find that you probably shouldn’t. Humans are creatures of habit, and even when we aren’t forced to keep habits, we probably should.
Of course, the main benefit of working from home is specifically that you can flex the schedule and procedures, so you shouldn’t be afraid of doing that. As long as you can keep being productive, changing things up might help you become even more productive since you have something to look forward to that breaks up the monotony.
For instance, instead of working from your home office every single day of the week, you could try working from a coffee shop every now and then. Maybe even a library. A bistro, with delicious lunch options. Pick your poison. At the end of the day, you’ll feel reinvigorated and excited about your work again, because you had a change of scenery while working. It wasn’t boring.
In other words, find ways to break your routine and keep things fun. Even if it’s every now and then. Doing so will ensure you keep yourself productively working, rather than slacking off due to burnout.
Not Prioritizing Web Development
Sure, your online business might be awesome, but your website has to be awesome too or people will assume the business is the same as the website.
Consumers have expectations when they browse online. If the website loads too slowly, they might give up and look for a different one. If the website is unappealing, they might question the business’s credibility. If the website doesn’t have any actions for the user to take, they’ll glance at the page for a bit and go find something else to do since they can’t pursue you easily.
Merely having a website isn’t enough to function well. That website needs to be optimized for potential customers or else you’ll lose that potential. Your website should entice people to act, and give them an option to act. Of course, a business owner often isn’t an expert on web design, so hiring someone to do the job for you is a wise idea. But whatever you do, don’t neglect your website.
Forgetting to Email Your Subscribers
While you might have collected a decent email list, if you don’t use that email list, people will forget about you. Infrequent senders often get flagged as spam by filtered bots, and people might forget about you and flag the email themselves. Additionally, not providing relevant content will make people disengage from the list, and then you’re back at the start.
You should be emailing your subscribers with relevant content as often as possible, things like:
VIP access details
Information on any causes you might stand for
People don’t like getting spammed, so be careful not to send too much, but not sending enough is way more harmful.
Forgetting About Your Physical Presence
Your business might be online, and you might work with people online, but you shouldn’t forget about everything you can do offline in the flesh. Sure, you can spend your entire day working from home, but then you’re not being exposed to new ideas. In fact, you’re missing out on interacting with people who haven’t searched for you but might be interested.
If you can attend big meet-ups, go for it. If you can join a group of people who meet regularly, do it. Maybe you should hire someone to speak with you in person about your business, a mentor or advisor. Perhaps you can start a physical presence for your business that can supplement the online presence, like Amazon. Almost anything will help, and the things that don’t help won’t hurt you beyond taking up time.
Offering Too Many Freebies
People love free things. Businesses love giving free things away to draw people in. However, if you give too many things away for free, you’re going to start losing money.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t offer freebies, because they are a powerful tool to attract new customers. But if you’re going to offer them, highly consider offering something that costs you nothing, like an ebook or “valuable” text/video. And don’t forget to attach those freebies to a commitment like subscribing to your newsletters.
When you do things this way, you give away a “valuable” product for free, but also don’t pay anything on your end. This draws potential customers in and primes them to spend real money in the future. And even if those potential customers never commit and buy something, you haven’t lost anything on your end. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, although it can be abused if you’re not careful.
You can also give away something tangible for free if you attach it to a premium purchase. Like how many services offer bonuses for bulk purchasing (buy 2 and get 1 free!), or attaching a bonus to the first purchase (buy now and we’ll throw in this sticker!). This lets you give away something that costs you money while guaranteeing that you aren’t losing money.
This can manifest itself in a few different ways. One is hiring too little or too much, and this causes the most direct harm. You either don’t have enough people for the workload or have too many people for the workload. One loses you money because you can’t work fast enough and the other loses you money because you’re paying people that don’t do much, if at all.
The other way this can manifest is by hiring the wrong people. And this is a big one.
While any employee is better than no employee, a mismatch in desired skills, personality, or loyalty can cause its own set of problems.
Maybe that employee works much less efficiently than they should on paper, or maybe you have to spend more time optimizing and managing teams that could be spent simply managing the company. In more dire circumstances, hiring the wrong people can lead to lower quality work, missed deadlines, angry clients, lost leads, etc.
These might be fairly generic problems, and you may have even already avoided a few of them yourself, but falling prey to even one of these can severely cripple your business.
Online businesses, while potentially being managed in much the same way as a physical business but faster, have their own unique host of problems that often aren’t apparent right away. Additionally, many physical business problems are equally problematic for an online business.
We may not have been able to cover every issue that could pop up for a newly built online business, but hopefully, we covered the big ones. It’s impossible to cover everything simply due to how unique every business’s situation is, but there is a certain subset of issues that universally affect all businesses and need to be considered in every situation lest your business crashes and burns.
And if you need help with any of this, or are looking to outsource your copy to make life easier, take a look at our consulting page. It might help.
Have you encountered any of these issues yet? Are there any that we didn’t mention here?
Let me know in the comments below! Your comments help everyone, including us!