“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
In truth I have been that fool too often!
Time and experience mean that although I still make mistakes I don’t make the same ones anymore, or as many of them.
Today, anyone can setup a new online business in a matter of hours and at little or no cost at all.
The practical and financial barriers to starting a business online are low. Unfortunately most new online startups still fail, in fact few last more than 6 months.
Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.
I’ve built hundreds of websites over the years from simple start-up blogs for one-man businesses to huge multi-site e-commerce and corporate websites and, although the technology has changed many times, the mistakes people make in those early stages are still the same. Mistakes that in hindsight seem obvious.
The trouble is ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’!
The truth is that building a successful online business is ‘no walk in the park’. That low barrier to entry can be the real sucker punch that so many budding entrepreneurs and new business owners don’t recover from.
The good news is, by avoiding these common mistakes now you will improve your chances of success tenfold.
Here are 7 critical practical mistakes most new online businesses make and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: starting without a plan
If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
Without a plan even the most brilliant business can get lost. You need to have goals, create milestones and have a strategy in place to set yourself up for success.
Setting out a clear plan of why as well as how and when, before you start will save you a lot of pain, expense and possibly even relationships further down the road.
It’s ok to change your mind along the way and good plan will grow and change as you progress and as your idea improves and is refined.
Mistake #2: not knowing whom your ideal customer is
This may sound obvious I know but many people launch their new online business before they have clearly identified who their ideal customer is and how to reach them.
Research, research, research – I can’t say it too many times.
One way to do this is to build a profile of your ideal customer. What type of person they are; gender, age range, interest, what they look at online, what social media channels they use most, etc. The more you know about your potential customer the easier it is to talk their language and answer their need.
Don’t assume you know.
Mistake #3: not identifying a gap in the market
“A ‘startup’ is a company that is confused about : a) What its product is. b) Who its customers are. c). How to make money.”
One of my first online businesses was based on a drop-ship model. There are lots out there and it is temptingly easy to set-up and launch your new site full of products in a matter of weeks.
The trouble is you then quickly realise that you have just jumped into a crowded market (because it was easy to set-up lots of other people are doing it too) all selling the same stuff at the same margins to the same customer base.
Worse still you find the drop-shipping company who are supplying you with products is already on page 1 of Google selling all the stuff you’re trying to sell, and at a much lower price than yours could ever be.
So, look for a gap in the market. Your product does not have to be unique in fact it can be easier if you have a few competitors because by researching what they are doing right and wrong, you can learn from them.
Being first to market means you will be the first to make the mistakes and others will learn at your expense.
Mistake #4: assuming ‘if I build it they will come” – they won’t!
At the exact time of writing this article there are 943,999,981 websites live online. That is up from 1 website back in 1991. That is a lot of websites competing for attention. How is anyone going to find yours?
Don’t panic! All this really means is that you have to be patient. Building an audience, a community, a loyal following and a customer base takes time. It will not happen overnight, whatever some online gurus say.
I would recommend you start building an online following before you launch your new business. That way, by the time you are ready to launch you will already have the beginnings of a interested audience to present your new product to. Don’t wait – do it now!
Mistake #5: not securing your domain name
If possible do this before you finally decide on the name of your new business. Always make sure your domain name is available across all the social media channels you need to reach your customer base. This will give a consistency to your new brand, eliminate confusion in the mind of your customers and help spread the brand name and recognition.
Firstly, decide which domain variable is critical to your business for example dopes it need to be (.com) or should it be country specific (.co.uk)?
Second; decide which social media platforms you need to be on to best reach your potential customers. Should it be Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Vine or YouTube, for example. See (The Best (& Worst) Times To Post On Social Media And Why)
The day I came across Namechk was a good day. It has saved me countless hours when it came to checking domains and whether or not they are available on different social media channels like Facebook and Instagram etc.
All you do is type in your chosen name and it instantly lists what social media channels it is available on. Wonderful!
Mistake #6: not using your own hosting
In the beginning it is very tempting to use free website services, free website designs and domain names. This is a mistake you will regret later! Your website hosting will become a critical factor in the development of your online business.
Speedy, helpful and proactive customer support for support your hosting company will save you many sleepless nights and potentially lost sales. If you live in the UK then get a UK based hosting account.
A good hosting package should be: cheap, fast, good support, easy to setup, no difficult get out penalties, no hidden extra costs, monthly and annual payment structure and an easy domain and email setup. You should be able to buy both your domain and website hosting from the same company – and get online in a few mouse clicks.
Recommendation: I have used too many hosting companies over the years and picking a good one was very difficult indeed and involved a lot of trial and error. I now use a UK host TSOHost on new websites and the service has been excellent. Avoid the big name hosts – the service is usually poor. Don’t be fooled by the initial low cost.
Mistake #7: wasting time on things you should not be doing
‘To Do’ lists are fine but, if you’re not careful, they can become your worst enemy. They are too easy to add to and are a constant reminder of everything you haven’t done yet.
“So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.” – Caterina Fake, Flickr co-founder
I would recommend making an ‘Un To Do’ list and stop wasting your precious time. Every task on your list comes at the expense of something else – a new opportunity. This is especially true if you are doing all the tasks of starting up your business yourself.
When you first start your own business and budgets are tight or non- existent, the chances are you are doing everything yourself (bootstrapping). You’re doing the research, the product development, the planning, the website build, the photography, writing the content, doing the press releases, finding suppliers, finding customers, networking, trying to build a social media following… the list is endless.
This all means no time left for the family, for any exercise, the dog suffers, the garden becomes overgrown and you have forgotten the last time you had an evening with friends.
Try to automate as many of the small menial tasks as possible.
Just one more… doing it on your own.
“Watch, listen, and learn. You can’t know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity.” – Donald Trump