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How to find customers for your new online business

So you’ve decided to start your own business. Maybe it’s a personal hobby that has potential to be more, or maybe it’s an interest that you’ve always wanted to pursue. Maybe you just need a bit of extra cash! All of these approaches are valid, but all of them share two things in common: it’s tough to get started, and even tougher to make it a big success.

For many people starting out as entrepreneurs, the lowest barrier to entry is selling your products or services online. By using ‘eCommerce’ solutions to set up your own internet shop, you could feasibly get started today, provided you’ve done the research. But standing out in a crowd of millions trying the same thing is a different prospect altogether. Here are four tips on how to bring your brilliant idea to the people who want to see it.

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Friends and family

Your safest and surest bet should be your friends and family. Sharing your new passion project with the people you know is a great way to gain feedback, improving your products at an early stage. But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t also be the first ones to buy into the idea, literally and metaphorically.

Consider that each of your friends might have four or five hundred friends across the various social networks, half of whom you won’t have in common. Now consider that each person who shares that post publicly is reaching those people, who might then reach other people.

If you have a great central concept and present it clearly, this sharing cycle could provide the momentum you need to get off the ground. The key is never to be afraid of or feel bad for selling your product, even to your friends and family. Your business doesn’t have to go viral, but this could be key to starting the ball rolling. Making sure it doesn’t stop will be up to you.

eCommerce platforms

Plenty of solutions now exist for creating your own storefront online. This approach will allow you to personalise all of the content, and leave you with a large cut of the profits. But unless you can get eyes on your store, you’re not going to sell anything. This is as much of a dilemma for large businesses as it is for entrepreneurs, and most of them have a single solution: setting up on a major platform.

The obvious disadvantage of using an Amazon or eBay is the cost. Both services take a fairly substantial cut of any sales, and require some rigmarole to deal with. But their importance to attracting a certain kind of consumer can’t be understated. Many people will now only search on these platforms, and the advent of services like Amazon Prime means people expect things from online shopping that only they can provide, particularly Prime’s free next day shipping.

While the audience is much bigger, there’s still a distinct possibility of being buried among thousands of similar products. But a unique product has a unique opportunity to stand out; and even if you’re in amongst a bunch of competitors, at least you’re being seen.

The nature of internet search engines, where websites build authority over time, means that making your own website visible outside of ‘word of mouth’ buzz is a tough proposition. Getting your product to pop up on a major eCommerce site is more realistic, and likely more profitable in the early stages.

 Blogging

While you’re grafting away in the early stages of your enterprise, it’s important to remember that thousands of other people have gone through the same thing, and will be going through the same thing soon. While that can be a great source of advice and inspiration, it also puts you in a position to help those following in your wake. Every issue you come across and solve is something that someone else could benefit from.

Writing a blog is a great way to document these issues, and offer practical solutions. This can either be on your website, an external blog, or for someone else. Putting them on your blog is the most widely practised option. This keeps your site looking active and lived in, and can make it a destination if it takes off. As always with your own site, though, it may be tough to advertise.

Writing for an external blog can find you a new audience, and writing for an external blog, such as a Tumblr or Medium, gives it the greatest potential to go viral. Just don’t spend your time writing at the expense of actually doing – you’ll run out of things to write about!

 Forums and social spaces

The old, bulletin board style forum is a dying art with a few noted devotees, such as Mumsnet. But this doesn’t mean people have stopped talking online; they’ve just migrated to different services. From Facebook groups to Instagram feeds, there are plenty of places where people gather to share and talk about the things they love.

Intruding on a tight-knit community to hawk your product is probably not going to go down well, but it’s worth considering whether you’re a member of any similar groups. And there’s nothing to stop you contributing on a personal level, then subtly dropping that you run a business people may be interested in. You can be more openly advertorial on social media, where tapping into hashtags and ongoing conversations can garner attention, even when you have few followers.

As well as forums, there are a variety of question and answer style sites you could contribute to. Sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers can give you a profile as an industry expert, as you weigh in on open questions in categories relevant to your business. Best of all, these questions can become high ranking Google results, giving you eyeballs on your expertise and your business. Your answers will have to be good to beat the competition, and garner ‘likes’ from others. But it should go without saying that the better your answer, the better it reflects on your business. Presenting yourself the way you’d want to be seen is good advice all around for an online business.

Former journalist Katya Puyraud is the co-owner of Euro Start Entreprises, specialising in company formation in France and the rest of the EU. Since 2007 Euro Start Entreprises has helped budding digital nomads, entrepreneurs and expanding SMEs with online payment processing, accountancy and formation services in over 30 countries worldwide.

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