Covid-19 has caused huge upheaval, with millions of jobs being lost and many people having to close their businesses. The upside is that online business has never been so busy. Thinking of starting your own online venture? Vanessa Rogers has sound advice to get you up and running.

Groceries need delivering, kids’ parties need organising and catering, scholars need tutoring… It’s also generally considered not much fun, but way safer, to do an online workout class than to go into the gym. This kind of lateral thinking will help you to find a product or service you can bring to the online market, if you don’t already have something in mind.

All online businesses need an e-commerce platform – a software application that allows you to manage your website and all aspects of sales, marketing and operations. The biggest ones in sub-Saharan Africa are:
  • Magento – popular with large retailers
  • Shopify – a SAAS (software as a service) platform with monthly plans
  • Wix eCommerce – an add-on for the user-friendly SAAS website builder, Wix
  • WooCommerce – an open-source plugin for WordPress, which powers as many as 35% of all websites out there
To help scale your business, compare platforms by price, ease of use, features / functionalities, design customisation and ownership lines. Your search engine optimisation (SEO) expert can also advise you on what is most suitable, while keeping your Google ranking and online analytics in mind.

‘Shopify is incredibly easy to use, but their billing is in US dollars and they take commission on sales (over and above your payment gateway commission),’ says Craig Johnston, owner of SEO, PPC (pay per click) and digital marketing agency Savvy Sprout. ‘WordPress with WooCommerce is practically free, but requires more technical skill than other platforms to properly implement and configure. Just remember: once you launch, the cost of redoing your online platform is significantly higher than getting it right in the first place.’

Position yourself as an expert in your niche by posting monthly blog posts via social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn). This will boost your ranking and increase your fans and followers in cyberspace.

It pays to hire an SEO expert, who will be able to see how much competition you’re up against and which keywords and trends you’ll need to tap into with your website, to reach your target market

‘Currently, the digital space is filled with a lot of noise and a lot of competition,’ says Craig. ‘To succeed, you’ll need to be better, smarter and more creative than everyone else. Getting started is a real challenge. There are, unfortunately, too many fly-by-night, pop-up “agencies” that are not expert in the fields you need. Their services might be cheaper at first, but the cost of repairing technical issues and lost time in digital exposure will then be a very high risk later on,’ he warns.Good advice, then, is to read widely and to tap into the advice of experts such as online marketing guru, Neil Patel. His wealth of blog posts and training videos are geared towards helping small business owners just like you.

Even if your business does not need to be online, the digital space has much to offer on the marketing front. Do you know anyone who still uses a hard copy of the Yellow Pages directory? Thought not. Anyone who uses online marketing will tell you that more eyes on your digital offering mean more profit.

So whatever line of work you’re in, you can boost your business by having an online presence. If you’re a work-from-home attorney, blogging on legal matters and sending out a newsletter will position you better than any big-league firm with a user-unfriendly website.

If you run a hair salon from home, a clever marketing platform with beautiful images of your work and rave reviews from clients will get you noticed. Likewise, if you offer gardening services, potential clients will be impressed by pictures of your handiwork and existing customers’ testimonials.

Providing a second-hand clothing service, that includes pick-up, wash and display? The pandemic we’re living through has shown us how important an online presence is, and that the ‘display’ aspect of your business should ideally be a website click-through or Facebook’s Marketplace, and not a bricks-and-mortar shopfront window.

HOW TO START YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS HOW TO START YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on December 01, 2020 Rating: 5
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