5 Techniques to improve, develop and grow your online business
Technology has transformed how we do business. More and more, people are finding goods and services online, ranging from the commonplace to the very niche.
Online spending has been trending upwards. In 2019, online consumers spent more than $601 billion1 with U.S. merchants, representing 16% of total annual retail, as analyzed by the Commerce Department. This is a huge market, and there’s room for everyone – including you and your online business.
However, growing an online business can seem intimidating, particularly with the vastness of the Internet. But in this vastness, there is also great potential and opportunity. With that in mind, the question is how to grow your online business sustainably and with a strategy.
This guide suggests 5 powerful tips to start improving your business and achieving higher outcomes today. You will also find the sources listed at the end of this post.
Grow Your Online Business – Overview
Key areas – To grow a successful online business, there are several key areas to manage, including content development or innovation, marketing, finances or product usability. It’s important to have a strong understanding of these concepts and commit the patience and resources (including financial) to develop them over time.
For innovation, it’s important to keep a pulse on your needs and the needs of others. Defining the vision, aims and values of a business is an important task you can do today. Customer targeting and customer service is important for developing and delivering a product that is desired, applicable and accessible.
Marketing – With an online business, the online presence is everything. Get strategic with advertising and social media to drive traffic to your website – then, keep customers active with your site and purchasing. Make the process easy for users.
Finance – Additionally, there are aspects such as the financial health of a new or established online business, which requires monitoring your costs and accounting, planning ahead to projections and keeping consistent with invoicing and billing.
User Experience – As an entrepreneur, you should always be motivated to improve the overall user experience (UX) of your online business. It is crucial to understand how your customers, users or readers use your website, product service or navigate your system. Do they find what the want int he best and easiest way? Draw the right conclusions here.
There are some steps you can take right now to start reaching a wider audience and earning more money. The following tips and techniques aim to help you start growing a more successful and meaningful online business today.
How To Grow Your Online Business – 5 Techniques
1. Define your Business Goals and Culture
For an online business to be successful, success must be defined. Does success mean an amount of money in sales per month? Is success getting a certain number of hits on your website each week? Maybe it’s having a meaningful company mission that employees and users stand behind firmly.
Goals should be descriptive, and there are different categories of goals. Consider all areas of business impact, evaluate where things stand now and then set goals that are specific with measurable targets and identify a timeframe.
When setting goals that easily translate to outcomes, remember to be SMART.
S – set. Set specific goals. Identify the who, what, where, when, which and why of the goal.
M – measurable. Establish criteria to monitor the progress and outcome of your measurable goal. Make sure you will know whether the goal is achieved or not.
A – attainable. Speaking of, set a goal that is realistically attainable with the current resources and capacity of your business.
R – relevant. Set goals that serve a specific purpose for your business growth and mission.
T – timely. Make your goal timely, with a target date for completion and trackable milestones along the way.
For example, a strong goal would be to “Gain 20 customers through social media advertising and networking by the end of the second quarter this year.”
Consider who should be at the table when defining goals and strategies. If possible, bring together diverse stakeholders. Once defined, goals should be written down (yes, preferably on paper but typed is okay, too) and clearly communicated widely and often.
Delegate tasks and create work plans. Assigning responsibility increases the likelihood that things will get done. Remember to track the progress of your goals. If you start to veer off track or the goal seems out of reach, it’s okay to reconsider and redefine the target.
If you need to oversee larger projects it is worth considering project management courses to learn to manage complex processes, teams, budget, and goals. Alternatively, PM software provides effective great tools to effectively organize the workflow.
Create a business culture
We’ve established the importance of measurable goals and strategies to get there, but what about elements that are not so easily measurable? Aspects such as satisfaction, aesthetics and lifestyle? These are important components of business culture.
Business, or company, culture can be understood as the ideals, values and goals2 that define an organization or business. Supporting inclusion and developing connections with employees and customers fosters personal and professional loyalty and growth.
Define, and then redefine, goals and culture as the business grows. Evaluation presents the opportunity to increase energy and innovation.
2. Grow your Online Business – Get Specific with Target Audience
One of the most important aspects of growing your online business is knowing the target audience. Your target audience will have similar characteristics, wants or needs that (ideally) your good or service will meet. You might narrow in on this audience through certain factors3 such as demographics, geographic location or personality and lifestyle traits.
Identifying this audience helps make the most of your online business’ time and resources while increasing the probability of making a profit. And, it allows the product and messaging to be crafted in a way that is more attractive and successful.
Especially if your online business is just getting started, a helpful exercise is to visualize your potential customer or user. Consider points4 such as their generation, preferred languages, location and time zone, interests and purchasing patterns. Adjust the information to be relevant to your business. Write these down.
If you already have customers and users, collect some preliminary data and who they are. Or, review data from similar businesses. What do customers have in common? How do they differ? Follow the data protection rules and laws in your country when doing so.
Personas are (mostly) fictional profiles of customers or users, which consider behavioral patterns, wants and needs of a target audience member. Personas help you gain an understanding of your target audience which positions you to better address their concerns, their backgrounds and to develop a product or service they will actually want and pay for.
If you’re new to using personas, there is a plethora of resources online to help you get started, including templates. Conduct primary or secondary research and build data-driven profiles. Consider if you should develop user or buyer personas5 – or, both. Try to create personas that feel personal and use names, images and stories.
Having now an idea of who you want to reach, the next tip helps to make that connection.
3. Make the Most of Social Media
In 2019, nearly 80%6 of the U.S. population used social media – that’s 250 million people! If you want to reach your target audience, social media is a good place to start.
Building from your personas, it’s important to be careful and strategic with your product or service and how it’s advertised to reach the right people. Social media is a powerful tool to build community and increase profit. However, it is crucial to also pick the right platform.
Do research and get inspired
What online brands and businesses do you admire? As you’re scrolling through social media posts and ads, take note of the ones you click open. Was it the image that drew you in? The engaging copy? Write down those motivators.
Keep tabs on trends and develop a plan to participate in a way that remains genuine to the business values and intentions (see tip #1). Observe what works, then make it your own.
Choose the right platform
Using the persona profiles, you can make informed decisions on which social media platform is the best fit. This article7 details the different benefits and motivations of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube. Pew Research Center8 also outlines the demographics of users according to different platforms.
Depending on the demographics of users, target audience, your business type and more, the social media platform worth prioritizing will vary. Remember that offering a specialized good or service can be helpful. Whoever you want to reach, they’re out there and likely reachable through common social media platforms.
Customize content. Personalize Ads
Make social media content personal. Individualize it to fit the culture of your online business, and personally engage the customer.
Include a visual with each post and accompany that visual with a caption that directly engages the reader and directs them to your business. Tell the story of your business to help build community. This community will translate to more profit.
And it’s worthwhile to get familiar with the different types of social media ads9, and prioritize ones that build on your business’s strengths, branding and reach your target audience.
Great bang for your buck
Big impact does not require big budgets. One great tip to save resources is to create content that you can post across different platforms for different audiences. Think writing copy and selecting images that can directly translate or be easily modified to work across social media, blogs and the business website.
Focus on quality over quantity. While advertising on social media requires time and financial investment upfront, it can be three times more cost effective10 than traditional marketing.
4. Wow With Your Website
Marketing and social media should direct traffic to your website. Then, you want to keep users there and engage them to purchase your service or product. As a quick activity, open your business website now. Visit as though you are a first-time user. Try to navigate the site with a critical and questioning eye. What can be improved? What is or is not intuitive?
Recall the goals and culture of your online business and use these as the grounding for your website design. How can these elements be communicated as directly as possible without distractions? Your website should be simple and user-friendly.
Encourage visitors on your business website to submit their email for updates, special offers and newsletters. This can appear as a pop-up window and is especially successful when you offer something in exchange for signing up.
For example, you may offer a small discount on a customer's first order or a free download or eBook. However, use pop-ups wisely as they tend to disturb the user experience and can be annoying when perceived spammy.
There are several benefits11 to adding customer testimonials to your website, including building trust, credibility and personalization. In written or video form, testimonials in support of your business can help encourage new potential customers to proceed.
These references and recommendations provide a new voice to explain your business and share how the business benefited their life. If you use WordPress, check your website's theme whether it already offers such functionality. Otherwise, there are free plugins such as Atomic Blocks that offer ready to use testimonials templates.
Create an About and Team page
Similar to testimonials, an About Your Business is essential to introduce and communicate your mission, values, products or cornerstone content. There are various styles to choose from. It depends on your preferences which design or layout would communicate the mission of your business in the best way.
Again, there are free and premium plugins available that offer ready to use templates to embed a well-designed and visual About page. The same applies to team pages, contact forms or creative 404 pages. There is no need to invent the wheel here but many businesses underestimate the importance of those pages for customer support and user experience.
5. Make Check-Out a Breeze – Improve Usability
Great, you’ve got the customer on your website, convinced by your well-defined mission and valuable product and now they are ready to make a purchase. This is the home stretch, and you don’t want to drop the ball now. Make sure the check-out process is flawless.
Customer journeys – You can use this strategy to draw the bigger picture and map out the individual cycles and steps a user, customer or reader passes through before and after buying a product or using a service, tool, or content item. I recommend enrolling in a course or hire a qualified person here. Furthermore, this is an ongoing process.
Usability – The process should be easy and simple, without distraction. Position the “cart” and “check-out” tabs clearly, so there is no time wasted searching around the page. These challenges fall into the field of usability. If you make it easy for your customers you will generate a great user experience for them. As a result, customer satisfaction improves which eventually will push you closer to your monetary targets.
Checkout – As the user goes through the checkout process, make sure they know what to expect. Show their progress in the process through a clear design feature, such as a bar chart animation. Let them know where they are and what’s next. Allow users to easily go ‘back' to previous pages if they need to correct or change information, and don’t time them out of the process.
Payment – If you can, accept various payment methods. Some users feel more comfortable checking out as a “guest” so have this as an option. Once the transaction goes through, ensure a follow-up receipt and thank you email go out immediately. Within your business, always keep consistent with billing and payments to ensure things run smoothly.
Trends – And, keep an eye on upcoming digital payment trends so that you can be ready to evolve if necessary. Cryptocurrencies and their underlying blockchain technology allow interesting financial services and payment methods that now pick up pace. Be ready here.
Tip – Implement forms to gather feedback from your customers, user and readers. This can be done through forums, chats, pop-ups, email or review systems to name a few. Listen to your customers. If they say they cannot find something take it seriously. Don't think you know it better. Big mistake.
8 Bonus Tips to Grow Your Online Business
Applying the five main tips will have meaningful and measurable impact on your online business. But, don’t stop there. These tips can be supported with a wide variety of efforts. Growing a business is a long process, and here are some things to remember.
Educate yourself – We should keep learning lifelong. In regard to having an online business, you can improve your productivity, enroll in courses to develop speed reading, web design, language, presentation or photography skills. The sky is the limit here.
Hit the books – Master the basics of business finance, including reviewing your costs and paying taxes. Financial health is the bloodline of a business.
Make projections – When we are so focused on the present moment, it can be easy to ignore what’s on the horizon. But this is exactly what separates leading businesses from the rest. Make it a point to monitor trends in your industry and elsewhere and be proactive about how to take advantage of upcoming opportunities and mitigate upcoming challenges.
Network – Form connections with similar businesses. This allows the opportunity to learn and expand your audience through efforts for shared benefit.
Ask for help – Some elements of an online business may be outside of your comfort or skill zone, and that is okay. Allow space in your budget for contracting out specific services.
Ask for feedback – Gather feedback from customers, users, colleagues and friends. The more you nail down what’s working and what’s not, the more successful your efforts will be. Sending a brief online survey is an easy way to gather responses you can use to quantify where the business stands currently and inform future strategies.
Be consistent – Reinforce your vision and values to drive a steady delivery of quality content and quality delivery of goods and services. Consistency will build credibility and grow a loyal base. Furthermore, there is a saying by Tony Robbins that “most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!”
Team building – One important but often neglected factor that can influence the success and growth of your business is how well you treat your team and business partners. It is one thing to hire highly skilled staff that will help reach your business goals. It is also crucial to appreciate them not only for the work they do but to offer a good work-life balance scheme as well. Build relationships based on value and people will keep sailing with you.
How To Grow Your Online Business – Summary
Whatever stage your online business is in – from a concept in your head to well established with a client base – sometimes you can feel stuck. But, you’re not. There is great potential for growth and the practical tips and techniques on how to grow your online business can help you to take things to the next level.
Approach your growth with intention. Start by defining goals, vision and values for your online business. Write these down and develop a workplan. Then, identify your target audience. Develop research-driven personas to help inform your social media and marketing strategies. Use these tools to drive traffic to your website and engage visitors once there for meaningful relationships – and increased profit.
Navigating the development of an online business is a process. But with an understanding of key concepts and a set of actionable tips and techniques, why not start expanding and achieving more today? Best of luck, entrepreneurs! And, thanks for reading.
How To Grow Your Online Business
- Set SMART goals.
- Establish a sustainable business culture.
- Identify your target audience
- Build personas
- Do research and get inspired.
- Choose the right platform.
- Customize your content. Personalize Ads.
- Create content for different platforms.
- Capture eMails.
- Provide testimonials.
- Create an About and Team page.
- Create a user friendly shopping experience.
- Allow undoing, reverting and deleting user actions.
- Accept various payment methods.
- Keep up with technological trends.
Define business goals and culture
Get specific with target audience
Create a Spocial Media strategy
Wow with Your Website
Make check-out a breeze
How to grow an online business? Please share your feedback, experiences, or tips in the comments below.