6 Killer Tips for Starting an Online Business
Set yourself up for success with your online certification course.
Starting an online business can be both challenging and rewarding in equal parts. In some ways, the barrier to entry for new online businesses is so low, that many people start before they fully develop their ideas.
Some of these entrepreneurs succeed despite the odds, and their success stories inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
But it’s probably no coincidence that the Internet is also full of “things I wish I’d known” stories of mistakes and missteps from people who jumped in over their heads and had to learn to sink or swim.
The common thread in these narratives is that preparation will help you succeed—but not too much, or you’ll never get started. On that theme, here’s our own list of top advice on starting an online business for certification course providers.
1. Have a plan.
You don’t need to map out ever milestone for the next five or ten years, but you should have specific idea for your product, your audience, and how you’ll be able to make money from it. Too many would-be entrepreneurs make the mistake of getting caught up in side details before they’ve worked out the bigger picture.
When starting an online business, if you can’t clearly state what you’re offering, who you’re offering it to, and why they will give you money, you’re in trouble. As a certification course provider, these things should be clearer to you than to other businesses, but it’s still important to talk it through and make sure your vision is solid.
2. Don’t go in blindly.
What do you know about other certification courses in your field? Do you have competition, and if so, what do they offer?
It is far too easy to get caught up in your own great idea that you forget to look around you. Doing so can be quite humbling. You may discover that some of the great ideas you had have already been put into practice by someone else.
That shouldn’t be a discouragement. On the contrary, it’s evidence that your great idea is a good one, and something you should move forward with! Furthermore, if they’re doing something you haven’t thought of, you can learn and improve on it.
And yes, you may also realize you have an opportunity to create something better than anything else on the market. If so, that’s a major confidence boost. But you won’t know until you look.
3. Get your SEO in order.
You’re online—people need to be able to find you. If you don’t have good SEO practices in place, you’ll be practically invisible. And the ability to draw in new customers through their online searches is one of the great benefits of doing business online. If you’re not taking full advantage of that, you’re doing yourself a major disservice.
4. Start your email list early. As in now.
Having a strong email mailing list is so important when selling online certification. Mailing lists help keep you top of mind when your prospects consider taking a certification course, and there a fantastic way to help your learners stay committed to their own goals.
However, it takes time to build a good list. You can’t just purchase a list, and you can land yourself in hot water if you trick people to signing up for one or abuse their good will once they do. Instead, you need to give them a reason to add their email address to your mailing list, and that can be a tough sell.
Fortunately, time is your friend. Offer visitors a compelling reason to subscribe, deliver what you promised, and you can build a healthy audience who will become an invaluable resource as your course launches.
5. Seek help.
Attend conferences. Talk to a business coach. Gather as much information about your market as you can. Doing so will connect you to a group of people who can provide more specific advice and feedback, much of it tailored to your situation. They may even help you draw in business down the road.
More importantly, having a good support network will help you stay on the right course. Too many online business owners try needlessly to go it alone. But launching a business online requires a lot of different hats, and while you’ll need to wear several of them, you probably can’t wear them all.
6. Focus on user experience.
One area that unfortunately doesn’t get enough attention from early business owners is the user experience of their website and their online course. This can lead to frustrated and disgruntled customers, a longer sales process, and lower revenue.
It is worth your time to learn about user experience, and even invest some money in discussing it with professionals. But if you don’t have the funds, you can make a start by taking a step back from your website (and your course) and looking at your project from the perspective of one of your users.
For instance, how much information is on your sign-up form? You may desperately want to know all of these things about your learners, but would you yourself be willing to fill out that form to sign up for something?
What about the navigation on your site, or the load time, or the way you move from page to page? There may be lag times and glitches that you’re willing to put up with because it’s your site, but your users will be less enamored. If it doesn’t function smoothly, they’re more likely to leave.
Think about your learners from the start, and make your decisions on their behalf. You’ll feel better about your course, and you’ll sell more certification courses while you’re at it.
Start early. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
Yes, there’s plenty of due diligence you should follow before you launch your certification course. After all, a reputation for shoddy, poor-quality material can stick with you and can do a lot of damage. But you don’t need to have every bonus feature in place before you launch.
Determine what your minimum viable product needs to be, make sure that meets your quality standards, and launch with that. It will help you draw in those email addresses, and will give you the data you need to refine your course.