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Starting an Online Business

The hardest part of any business is starting it.  You have to identify an unmet need of some sufficiently large group of people.  You have to find a way to fill that need that’s better than whatever is available today.  You have to identify a way to have your target audience find your site once it’s ready.  Then you have to actually execute your plans.

That last part, executing on your plans, is arguably the easiest part.  Most likely that’s what you’ll end up spending most of your time doing, but it’s mostly mechanical things: getting software and installing it; writing articles or product descriptions; filling orders.  If you don’t do the earlier steps well, all of your work on the mechanical aspects of your business is likely to be futile.  It’s easy to spend a lot of time and money on a new business venture, but if you don’t have a pretty good idea of a path to success before you start, there’s a good chance you won’t find such a path when most of your time is consumed by the mechanical aspects of running the business.

Unfortunately, many people don’t do those earlier steps before starting their business.  Instead, they come up with an idea and start the business right away, without considering things like what they’re going to provide that’s better than what’s available today, or how they’re going to stand out from the crowd.

That doesn’t mean you have to have a detailed plan before you start out.  More likely is you have a vague idea, and need time to experiment, explore, and learn.  After a while you’ll understand the market you’ve been experimenting with, and at that point you can ramp it up.

I ran across this article on someone who started an online retail business selling children’s books.  It’s a huge market, but there’s a lot of very stiff competition (e.g., Amazon).

The article leaves a bad impression that the person who started this business made it successful quickly.  It says something to the effect that he toyed with it for six years, then got serious and made it a success within a couple of years.  That may well be how the owner thinks of it, but I see it a little differently.  He spent six years learning his target market.  When he started out he probably had little understanding of what opportunities were available, but after six years he had a good idea of some unmet needs that existed.  At that point he started putting a lot of time and money into it, and within a couple of years (with the knowledge he gained from the previous six years and a lot of hard work) his business is starting to show significant success.

If you’re just starting out and don’t have a solid idea of what to sell or how to sell it, my suggestion is start small and experiment.  Over time you’ll learn about your target market, and at that point you can focus on making it a big success.  Until then just focus on learning.  Make a point of looking for unmet needs every week, rather than just grinding through the mechanical aspects of your business.  There’s no way to know how long this will take – hopefully less than six years.  But one of the good things about online retail is that you can make money at it while you learn.  Until you ramp up the volume it won’t be a lot of money, but making any money while learning about your market is better than spending money to learn about it.


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