The Online Difference Maker for Startups

on January 11, 2019

Back in 1999 a company called excite had the chance to buy Google for a mere $750 000 USD and didn’t. This could be considered one of the worst business decisions of all time, but hindsight is always 20/20.

There are plenty of bad decisions new business owners can make and some of the worst offenses are committed online. Think of the new business owner who accidentally shares an update meant for their personal Facebook on their business page, or the one arguing or not responding to customer complaints on Twitter.

More costly mistakes could come in the form of developing an entire business website that still uses Flash. The list goes on. The best way to avoid falling victim to the list of potentially embarrassing or costly pitfalls new business owners make, is to focus making good decisions.

With a little guidance, new business owners can get a smooth start to building their business online. From getting a website setup to promoting it properly, new business owners have a lot to learn and a lot to lose. So get your compass ready because we’re about to map your route to online success.

Deciding to Google your business before you start it

Before you even incorporate your company you should “Google” your desired business name and related or competitive products or services. This is one of the easiest, earliest and yet most important steps new business owners can take. You may in fact discover that another business already has the business name you were thinking of. More than that, you’ll get a landscape view of your potential market. Let’s say you wanted to start a small floral business nearby. First you’d “Google” exactly that and see what the results were like:

From one quick search you can see that there is really only one florist nearby, but there is also online competition. You can get a sense of what the competition’s business names are to make sure that the one you choose will be unique and stand out. You can also click through competitor websites to see their selection and gauge if what you will offer will be as competitive. Keep an eye out for other competitive features like free delivery, same-day delivery or, in the case of a florist, maybe even artisanal vases included.

In “googling” your business you can also Google My Business. That means setting up a profile with Google Business which will allow you to show up in local search results like the one seen in all the way to the right-hand side in the screenshot above. It includes a map and a card-style search result that stands out to local searchers. This is a great way to jumpstart traffic to your website and even get new customers calling directly from Google. Best of all, it’s free!

Deciding to be surgical about your website setup

Ok trivia time, what does every new business absolutely need? Spoiler alert: every new business absolutely needs a website! What separates the good from the bad and the ugly are those who take the time to get set up properly. From domain names to hosting and security, there’s a lot at stake from right out of the gates. Here’s a mini checklist so you can get surgical with your website creation process:

Choose a professional domain name
With so many business websites out there, your domain name is hugely important. Depending on the domain name you choose it can help your business get found online and help customers remember it. Ideally your domain name would be your business name, but unfortunately that’s typically not possible since many domains are already owned (unless you have a very obscure business name). If you can’t have your first pick, come up with something closely related or at least clever – but make sure it’s professional. While many prefer a .com extension, you can also select sub-domains and domain extensions like .attorney or .store when you buy and register a domain name. If you do find a domain name that you like, buy and secure it and then start using it as a marketing tool.

Get a professional business email address
Once your professional domain address is purchased you can get a professional email address set-up with it. Having a professional email is one of the smartest choices new business owners make online – it speaks volumes to new customers when compared to an email coming from sunnybunny!129@hotmail.com for example. Once you have your domain name, your web hosting company [more on that in a minute] can set up an email address using that domain name such as name@yourbusiness.com. A business email not only looks much more professional than a personal one, but it also identifies you as a businessperson, helps to brand your business, and enables you to give each of your employees (if needed) their own business email address.

Get an SSL certificate for your website.
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, which encrypts information exchanged over your website. When you’re building out your business website, be sure to secure it with an SSL certificate. The certificate is required for anyone selling products online but it also builds trust among your website visitors by showing them that any data exchanged on your website, such as addresses or credit cards, is safe. In fact, if you don’t have a certificate, Google will display a “Not Secure” warning in the browser window when visitors enter your site, which is sure to put them off.

Partner with a hosting company you trust
Find a hosting company that fits your needs. There are many different product and pricing models available for website hosting so you want to find one that meets your budget. You also want to make sure that it has the security, reliability and customer service standards you need. Some hosting companies even have large email storage limits and SSL certificates included in different pricing models.

If you take the time to lay the foundation of your website properly now, it will be able to weather all kinds of potential storms. From security threats to basic email functionality, you need to get it right from the get go. Use the checklist above to help guide your website setup process.

Deciding to digitize your business operations

New business owners that make use of the vast array of online resources available to their small business are winning. Digital tools and processes save business owners time and money and are often better for the environment too. Let’s break down the various ways that your business can go digital from day one.

Do the paperwork online
There’s a lot of red tape to go through when you’re starting a small business. Fortunately, much of it can be completed online. Incorporate your business with Incorporate.com, LegalZoom or CorpNet to name a few.

Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for your business if you plan to hire employees. Visit the IRS website to apply. You can also research federal permits and business licenses you may need on the SBA website or through your local state department website.

Use free online tools and templates
Why reinvent the wheel when it comes to the nuts and bolts of your business, like how to design your invoices or what to include in a business plan? You can access hundreds of free downloadable templates, guides, planners and other business startup tools online. For example, check out the free business plan templates at BPlans, contract and other legal templates from RocketLawyer or Nolo.com, and the wide range of business templates at SCORE or Spreadsheet123.

Conduct business in the cloud
Storing your business data and documents in the cloud offers many advantages over keeping it on your hard drive or a server in your business. It’s safer, with no risk of your hard drive or server crashing. It also enables you to access your data wherever you are, 24/7 which is increasingly important for these hard-working startup years on the go! You can also share documents with freelancers, employees or clients and collaborate online. Google Drive, Box and Microsoft Office 365 are popular tools for cloud storage and collaboration.

You can also benefit from using cloud-based software applications instead of downloading and installing software on your computer. In most cases, you can use the software across all your devices. Plus, all software updates and security patches are handled by the cloud software provider, saving you time and hassle. In some cases cloud-based storage and business services are free.

Hold meetings online
Save precious startup capital by holding meetings and sales presentations online instead of traveling across country to meet with prospective clients. Want to work with a freelancer or independent contractor with a specialized skill you can’t find locally? Online conferencing tools let you meet with remote workers around the country (or the world), which can help you find the most experienced workers you can afford wherever they happen to be. Online video conferencing tools can help such as Skype,  Join.me,  RingCentral and Zoom.

Hire online staff
As a startup, you may not be able to afford full-time employees just yet. No worries. Save money and get the work done by enlisting freelancers and independent contractors that can be found online. Employee marketplaces such as Freelancer.com, Guru.com and Upwork.com let you post projects, contract freelancers and even pay them through the site. These sites tend to be helpful for the creation of a business logo for example.

Simplify accounting with online software and banking
If you’re in business, you need accounting. Use online banking and digital accounting software to make and accept payments. You’ll get instant alerts about your accounts, you can manage your money and you can sync your bank account information with your business’s accounting software so your books are always current.  QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks and Wave are popular online accounting tools for new small business owners to consider.

There are many ways that new business owners can “digitize” their operations. The point is that each one is a good decision because it saves time and money – two things no business owner can get enough of!

Committing to a strong social media presence

Small businesses that get social media right from day 1 get ahead. Building an authentic brand presence on social media takes time and participation. You have to slowly earn a following by participating in conversations and sharing helpful content on your social media channels. Sharing images from your business can help too!

The thing is though, social media doesn’t happen overnight. New business owners often set up social media because they feel like they have to but then neglect it. It is better to have no social media presence than an anemic one. Neglected social media sites signals to new customers that you just don’t care or don’t take the time to showcase your business (or maybe even that there is nothing to showcase). So if you do decide to use social media, which you should, make sure you commit to it.

Create a schedule for posting content each week and for engaging with customers and influencers. Start spreading the word about your new business before it even opens by launching social media accounts and building anticipation. You can use social media advertising to target the specific customer groups you want, such as people in your neighborhood, people who are interested in what you sell or people with a certain income level. Bonus: Social media is also a great place to find a 24/7 support system from other small business owners who’ve “been there, done that.” Join industry groups on social media to ask questions and learn from others’ experiences.

Small business owners can really hit a home run with even one small ad on Instagram. Here are some good examples of small business product ads on Instagram:

All of the brands here managed to use a combination of powerful imagery and titles to capture the attention of hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of other “Instagrammers.” These small business products would otherwise have much less visibility if it weren’t for their Instagram ad campaigns. In fact many new brand purchases are made through exactly this social media advertising process. At the very least social media when done right is a powerful branding tool. Business owners who decide to commit to social media can build a devoted following over time and in some cases there’s the potential to go viral!

Deciding to be a lifelong learner

As a new business owner, you’ll have to handle everything from accounting and business development to marketing and tax prep yourself (at least at first). Chances are, you aren’t an expert in all of those things. But the best business owners never stop learning.

You can take online courses in topics that range from marketing to dropshipping to AI and more. Check out Coursera, the Small Business Administration, Udemy or Class Central to find online learning that fits your needs. Of course there’s also a wealth of information online, through podcasts and also great books. You’re already off to a great start simply by reading this article!

Making smart business choices

There are plenty of do’s and don’ts for startup entrepreneurs to be aware of. By making the smart online choices above, you’ll avoid hidden pitfalls while saving time and money. More importantly, you’ll give your new business a big advantage over the competition who may not have thought things through as carefully as you did.

Making smart business decisions starts with you, so take the time and weigh out what’s right for your business. Learn from the good decisions listed above, the mistakes others have made before you and choose a path that leads you to success.

Image Credits
Feature Image: Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash
All screenshots by author. Taken November 2018.
Image 1: Screenshot Via Twitter
Image 2: Screenshot Via Google
Image 3: Via Network Solutions
Image 4: Via WP Tavern
Images 5-7: Screenshots via Instagram

Author information

Justin Leedy

Justin Leedy is the head of Website Solution Strategy for Web.com, where he has spent the past seven years developing solutions to help small business owners. Justin is Web.com’s acclaimed ‘voice of customer’ as he has spoken with over 10,000 small business owners in person across the United States as part of Web.com’s Small Business Workshop series. Prior to working at Web.com, Justin led digital marketing teams at personalized gift retailer Things Remembered, and at Progressive Insurance, the third largest auto insurer in the United States.

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