Over 1.79 billion people bought something online last year. When on earth did we arrive at that number? Well, we arrived there in 2020, and the number of people shopping online (even just once) is increasing as every year goes by.
It might seem like online businesses pop up overnight. Suddenly brands, old and new, are making money online. We don’t necessarily see all the behind-the-scenes of what it takes to open your virtual doors officially. You might have an idea of what starting an online business looks like. You might not. But come on our ecommerce journey anyway to find out if you are hitting all your marks.
How Do You Really Make Money Online?
Opportunity is all around us – especially considering we live in a global marketplace that has no limits when it comes to who can start an online business, or where they come from. Follow this guide to find out how you can start an online business in South Africa.
Here's a summary of what we'll cover:
- Decide on a Product or Service
- Dive Into Market Research
- Write a Business Plan for Success
- Settle on the Best Business Name
- Grab Your Domain Name
- Register Your Business
- Choose Your Hosting Provider
- Development Requirements: Plug-ins, Tools and Automation
- Selecting Your CMS
- Have Fun Tweaking Website Templates
- Chart Your Sitemap
- Create a Content Plan
- Register, Download and Install Your Payment Gateway
- SEO Optimisation and Best Practices
- The “Before Your Website Goes Live” Checklist
Introduce Yourself to the (Online) World
- Learn as You Go
Decide on a Product or Service
You may have started with this step naturally. You have found a fantastic product, and you’re figuring out how to sell it. It could be the other way around. You know that online stores are an epic avenue for selling, but you haven’t landed on a product yet.
With the right approach, you can start selling something that:
- You believe will fill a gap in the market and,
- You have enough product/industry knowledge to sell quickly and confidently.
Of course, there’s some work to be done before finding the sweet spot. We’ve got that laid out for you: How to Find the Right Business Idea in 7 Easy Steps.
Dive Into Market Research
Starting an online business without proper market research can (and often will) have catastrophic outcomes.
We conduct market research to learn customer behaviours and gain clear insight into our target audience. It would be next to impossible to sell a product that caters to everybody. If you’re serious about making money online, take time to find out whom you’re selling to and why.
How to conduct market research
There are two overarching parts to research: primary and secondary research. Primary research is the information you gather yourself. On the other hand, secondary research is information you source from existing reports, findings, and insights.
Research for an online business is a job of its own. It includes (but is not limited to):
- Conducting keyword research
Keywords give you a ton of insights into who’s searching for what – and more importantly if they’re searching for it at all. If you have a product in mind, use keyword software to search for the relevance of your product. Find out what people are talking about, where they’re talking about it and what they have to say.
Check out these three (sort of) free keywords platforms:1. Checking out your competition
There is always competition, no matter how original your business idea. It’s not a bad thing – competition keeps you on your toes. Find out who else is in your industry and do a deep dive into their website, how they engage with customers and what business model they follow.2. Researching current trends
Does your business have the potential for longevity, or is this just a passing trend? The times are a-changin’, and you need to see if there is a declining, growing or plateauing interest in your potential product or service.
A helpful way to research trends is through Google Trends. Enter a term you’re interested in, and you’ll be presented with a score out of 100 and how that term has been trending over time. You can test two words against each other, as well.3. Scoping out social media
Your audience lives on social, and your brand should live there, too. It makes sense that a lot of your market research happens here.
You can find out a lot about your target market by seeing what they’re up to on their socials. What hashtags are they using? What are people saying about them online? What are their daily interactions comprised of?
Hungry for more information? Read more about Our Top 10 Market Research Tools which we have hand-picked mahala just for you!
Write a Business Plan for Success
Now to start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard is probably more apt).
And that’s a big reason why setting up a business plan is imperative. It helps you to visualise the road ahead of you.
A business plan props you up in a few key areas:
- Market understanding
- Brand positioning
- Marketing strategy
- Loan/investment interest
Your business plan checklist:
- Company description
- Product or service definition
- Market analysis
- Marketing plan of how you plan to make sales
- Funding requests and financial projections
If you need more details about any of those points, read more about How To Write a Successful Business Plan That’ll Get You Noticed (+ a FREE Template)
Settle on the Best Business Name
Now, you need to name your brainchild. Your customers will be using this name as long as your brand shall live, and you need to ensure that it hits all the requirements for a memorable brand name. We like to keep it to these three steps:
Start with your story
Your business journey is something you’ll never forget, and you may find it makes a beautiful brand name somewhere in there. Think of where you started and why you started to find clues about your brand name.
Keep it simple
Nothing that people can’t read. Nothing that could be pronounced a million different ways. And absolutely nothing more than three syllables (seriously).
Make it sound good
The way a brand name sounds is vital. Don’t risk confusion by picking a name that sounds like something else or, worse, rhymes with something that has negative connotations. Test your preferred name on the people around you and see how they react to its sound.
To make your life even easier, keep this blog on hand when you’re choosing a name for your brand: 10 Do’s and Don’ts to Finding the Best Business Name Ideas.
Grab Your Domain Name
It used to be the case that your brand name could exist without ever using it on the internet. You need to consider your domain name with an online business (or even a physical business with a website and social media accounts).
Before you set your heart on your brand name, you must ensure it’s available as a web address. The internet is a vast space, and there is a chance somebody has already registered a domain using the brand name you want.
You can register your domain name through a CMS platform or hosting provider (we’ll talk about these soon). Bear in mind that you’ll need to pay a fee for a professional-looking web domain like www.proffesionaldomain.com. Free versions usually attach the provider’s name to the end of your website address which doesn’t look too clever.
Register Your Business
You didn’t think you could skip this step because your business is online, did you?
Hundreds of thousands of businesses bring in a profit through online stores. It makes sense that they would follow the same protocol as traditional businesses.
There are plenty of reasons why people register their businesses, but we’ll outline the big ones:
- Registering your business frees you from personal liability if/when something goes wrong.
- Your business becomes more attractive to investments, partnerships and funding.
- Customers find it easier to trust your brand, product or service.
We get into a lot more detail here: How to Register a Business: How, Why and When to Make the Move.
Choose Your Hosting Provider
Now that you have your name and you’re ready to lock it in, you need to choose a hosting provider. This is essentially the first step towards building a website for your business.
A website host makes it possible for your website to be visible on the internet. Without one, nobody will find you, and you won’t have any space on the world wide web.
When you’re looking through website hosts like GoDaddy, Bluehost or Dreamhost, you need to keep some things in mind:
- Interface usability
Need a bit more guidance? Read 5 Cheap Web Hosting Solutions to Get Your Business Online
Development Requirements: Plug-ins, Tools and Automation
You can afford to run your business as a one-person show in the very beginning. But as you become more popular and your client base starts to grow, you’ll need to invest in some plug-ins and automation tools to increase the efficacy of your website.
This all depends on what you want the main functions of your website to be: to sell, to network, to inform or even to collaborate.
If you don’t know, a plug-in is a type of software that has been created to boost your website. Plug-ins add extra functions to your website that aren’t offered by your CMS or web host.
Curious to see our top plugin picks for ecommerce websites? Read These are the Best Plugins and Tools for Your Ecommerce Website
Speaking of CMS, let’s get into it:
Selecting Your CMS
A Content Management System (CMS) is online software that allows you to build a website from a pre-existing framework.
A CMS is not the same as a website builder, but the two have similar purposes. A CMS uses templates that can be customised whilst it holds, manages and supports the content on your website. A web builder is focused more on building the website using various tools and simple drag and drop functions.
We would recommend looking through CMS options while you look through Web Hosts. This is because you may have a CMS you already know how to use but accidentally purchase a Web Host that doesn’t support that CMS or has a complicated transfer process.
For beginners, and even for business owners who have a good grasp of web design, WordPress is a sound starting point. This CMS lets you secure a domain, link to a registered email and host your website all from one source. Additionally, WordPress partners with the ecommerce plugin, WooCommerce, to open the doors for online businesses.
Don’t feel overwhelmed about building a website. Instead, head over to our Beginners Guide on How to Build a Website.
Have Fun Tweaking Website Templates
You may have been wondering when the fun part starts? For all our visually creative entrepreneurs out there, that time is now.
A template is a great way to ease into the design on your site – it's far less daunting than looking at a blank screen. Plus, there is so much you can tweak and play around with. Website templates have the potential to look like a professionally built website in just a few hours.
A word of advice: visit your competitors' websites. Whilst you’re gathering inspiration, take note of how many websites look the same. Templates are an awesome accessibility tool for budding businesses, but they can tend to saturate the look and feel of websites out there. Make sure to bring your own brand identity into the mix – you don’t want to blend into the background.
Choosing the best website template:
There are a few essential things to consider when choosing the most suitable template, here are our top four:
- Header design/hero image
- Content areas
- Mobile compatibility
- Page load speed and performance
Chart Your Sitemap
You’ve put your heart and soul into creating a dazzling website; now you need to make sure people find it. Google is committed to ensuring that relevant search results come up for its users. One of the most effective ways business owners and website developers make sure their sites are viewed as trustworthy and optimised for search engines is through site mapping.
Different web pages hold different search engine statuses. The further away a page is from your homepage, the less SEO pull it has. Site mapping helps you create the depth of your website – meaning how many clicks somebody must do to get to the furthest part of your site.
The golden rule is that there shouldn’t be any pages further than three clicks from your homepage.
We have a complete guide for you! Read A Roadmap to Creating a Sitemap and Navigation Structure for Your Online Store
Create a Content Plan
88% of all online shoppers perform online research before buying a product. You need to make sure they like what they see. And what they’re going to see is the content you put out there to represent your brand.
A well-thought-out content plan is going to make your life significantly more manageable for the months ahead. Social media marketing and running an online business go hand in hand – there are no two ways about it.
Through your extensive market research, you would have found:
- Where your audience consumes information (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, Pinterest)
- What media do they prefer? (Images, written content, video, podcasts)
- What problems do you want to solve for your community?
These findings will guide the type of content you create and the strategy behind when and where your content is released.
If you’re worried about making beautiful content, there’s no need to worry. A camera phone and Canva do wonders for your feed. There are also excellent content scheduling platforms like Later that let you plan out your content for months in advance (an absolute dream).
You may need some help coming up with content ideas. Answer the Public is a tool that lets you know what people are talking about online surrounding any given topic. Let’s say you sell knitted sweaters. You would type “knitted sweaters” into the search bar and Answer the Public will supply you with questions from audiences in an area of your choice.
We gave “knitted sweaters” a go, and here are some of the search queries that came back:
- How to wear a knitted sweater
- How to wash knitted sweaters
- Can you resize a knitted sweater?
Now, let's say your content helps answer all these questions through infographics, blog posts, live stories or newsletters. It sounds like something a top-notch brand would do, right?
Register, Download and Install Your Payment Gateway
70% of people think that digital payment methods will overtake cash and cards by 2030.
Every new venture comes with its own set of hurdles. Imagine setting up your online store, implementing your marketing plan, and bringing in inventory without thinking about how people will pay for your product.
Not with the correct online payment gateway. An online payment gateway is a software or tech that allows for money to be transferred between two bank accounts. It’s the shiny new version of an EFT, where the seller doesn’t have to input any of their banking information.
Instead, the buyer is directed to a checkout page where they’ll type in their card details and approve the payment through their banking app or an OTP (One Time Pin).
Why do you need a payment gateway?
A payment gateway is designed for both you and your customer. Here are four reasons you need to bring one into your online business ASAP:
- It’s one of the fastest ways to get paid.
- Your store can make money around the clock. An online store doesn’t have a closing time, after all.
- You immediately widen the net of whom you can sell to.
- Online payment gateways must be safe and secure before they go to market, so you can trade peacefully knowing your customers' money (and your incoming payment) are protected.
You don’t need to look very far for the right payment gateway. We have it for you right here: How to Choose the Right Payment Gateway for Your Online Business.
SEO Optimisation and Best Practices
You’ve put in the hours, and now you need to make sure it shows. We spoke earlier about the importance of keyword research for SEO, but now we’re going to talk about how to take your website and turn it into a page-one-SEO-dream.1. Use keywords in your headings, meta text and content headings
Titles have a lot of pull when it comes to SEO. Let’s say you’re selling shoes; you’ll want to source all the most vital keywords – like “Converse sneakers for sale” – to insert (naturally) into your website copy.2. Use an SEO plugin
An SEO plugin runs through your web pages and completes an SEO audit to let you know what you’ve done right, what’s not so good and what’s still left to do. Three highly recommended SEO plugins for WordPress websites are Yoast SEO, All in One SEO Pack and Rank Math. Remember that you shouldn’t try to install two SEO plugins – stick with one.3. Utilise internal links
Internal linking is an SEO best practice that’s super easy and effective. You would have seen them throughout this article – the text that’s in pink. If you click on one of those links, you’ll be redirected to another page. Internal links on your website help direct users to what they’re looking for.4. Include alt text, images and captions
Not only does this make your website more accessible, but it also helps your images to pull through onto Google image searches. If you have images on your site, make sure to concisely outline what’s happening in the image using solid keywords.
The “Before Your Website Goes Live” Checklist
Running an online business is a balancing act. Sometimes things don’t go to plan. However, run through this checklist before your website goes live to troubleshoot any possible problems.
- Check, check and check again for typos and errors.
- Do I have a clear CTA (Call to Action)?
- Check that all audio and video files work.
- Have I included a contact page?
- Is my site inclusive and accessible?
Marketing and SEO
- My social media has been included and linked.
- Set up Google Analytics.
- Images have been captioned with keywords and context.
- Go through my sitemap.
- Do all my forms, payments, downloads and sign-up functions work?
- Is my navigation taking users where they want to go?
- How does it look on mobile devices and different browsers?
- Run a compatibility test. This will let you know that your plugins and software are (hopefully) working well together.
- Make sure my URLs are correct.
- Test my page speed for mobile and desktop with Google's free PageSpeed Insights tool.
- Confirm SSL certificate.
- Get on top of admin before going live.
- Remove plugins you no longer need.
- Secure your site.
Introduce Yourself to the (Online) World
Now to show the world what you’ve been working on!
Starting your own business often takes many sacrifices – it means staying up late, waking up early, watching endless tutorials and saying no to things you’d rather say yes to (and saying yes to some things you would usually say no to. Goodbye, comfort zone!)
There's no need to put tons of money into a marketing campaign when you have the power of social media.
It’s possible, and even recommended, to start marketing your online business before your website goes live. A little hype never hurts! Set up your pages across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tik Tok.
Remember that not every platform is suitable for your brand, but don’t knock any of them off the list because you’re not familiar with them. Let people know that something exciting is around the corner.
Introduce your brand by telling people what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and why you do it better than anybody else. This could be in the form of a video, a post, or a blog. Whichever way feels best to express yourself! If you decide to put aside some money for a marketing budget, Google Ads is a phenomenal platform for guiding traffic to your website.
Learn as You Go
There is always more to learn, and we know that the road to making money online can be a tricky one. We have loads of online business resources to set you up for a successful ecommerce journey. Never stop asking questions, never stop being curious and never give up on the hustle!
Go forth and conquer, you’ve got this.
Want to find out how we’re helping small business take their business online? Check out the iKhokha Payment Gateway.