The digital strategists approach on how to start an online business

Simple steps to know if you have an online market for your idea 

 
The digital strategist approach to starting a business.
 

There  are a lot of people out there talking about how to start an online business and you should read as many of these knowledgeable articles as you can. But I’ve got another angle for you to consider. Before you even get started, you need to find out everything you can about your market and customers.  I’d like to show you how to pull together this digital jigsaw puzzle of knowledge.

The first thing to do before anything else is to confirm that you’ve got people interested in purchasing your product or service you are going to offer. 

Any business consultant will tell you that you can’t sell the best widget in the world if no one needs, or wants to buy it. Without a viable product or service to start with, starting a business online will be very difficult. 

To find out if there’s anyone out there interested in your product (besides your best friend and her dog) I’ve got some simple exercises to do to to answer this question.

1. Search for your product/ service in Google

I know - too simple right? Start with who’s selling your product or service already. Knowing your competitors by searching for them and understanding exactly what and how they sell will give you heaps of knowledge about your market. So go deep, don’t just stick to page one results. You want to know both the good and bad competitors.  
 
Things to look for in particular are what social platforms and tools they are using to sell. For example, are they focused on email capture, or do they provide webinars or other free giveaways or leadmagnets. You can also get a good feel for pricing and any other related information such as delivery and service that you'll need to know to make yourself competitve.  

What this research will tell you about how to start your online business:

  • If there people out there making money from your product/ service
  • What kind of competition your going to face
  • The price range and variety /unique offerings on the market
  • How your product /service is being sold online
  • The types of digital assets and tools you’ll need to consider to sell
  • Hints on what's not working so well for your competitors.  

2. Find out how many people are really looking for your product /service online

Now you can start some market research on what real people are doing and you don't need a market research company to achieve this.

Google Adwords has a great tool as part of having an Adwords account called Keyword planner. It lets you get in and dig about in the real terms that people are searching on, the volumes of people searching on those terms and what competition is like for those keywords. This is one of the best indicators of what real people are asking and looking for in the digital realm.

 
Adwords keyword planner
 

You can see that you get lots of variations on the keywords that people are using in Google to search for your ‘thing’. When you’re doing this research, think about the problem that people are trying to solve. This is also going to help you understand how to talk to your customers when it comes time to selling.

Understanding the words and language that they use is important. When you’re an expert in a field, you will use lots of words that are part of your trade. Chances are your customer may not know these words, at least not to start with.
 
I relate to this trying to find a particular tool at Bunnings, a big hardware chain store here in Australia. What I wanted to find was a tool that will help me round off the corners of a table made from recycled wood to stop it catching on my cardi's? I have no idea what the name of the tool is. Even when I search on the internet using the words ‘tool to make round corners on wood’ doesn’t get me very far. So I had to go down to the store to talk to someone, revealing my severe lack of handyman knowledge. My point is, you need to put yourself in the mind of your customer who may not know all the right terminology for your area of expertise.
  
So don’t just stick to the keywords you know, extend your search.
 
A couple of other websites that can help you expand your list of keywords are Googles own related search words that they display when you search; 

 
Google suggests
 

and ubersuggest.org which gives you long lists of your keyword with other words organised alphabetically.

 
Ubersuggest
 

Do you know any other form of market research, at the ripe price of free that can give you that amount of insights without having to survey hundreds of people?

What this research will tell you about how to start your online business:

  • The number of people searching for your product right now
  • The language and words they use to describe your product
  • Possible insights into how they think about your product as a solution to a problem they have, so you know how best to market your product/service.

 All you need to do to start an Adwords account is a Gmail account and a credit card (but you don’t have to spend anything to start using the tool). And away you go.

 
3. Find out where are they talking about your product /service online

Once you’ve got a handle on the words and volumes of things that people are using to search for your potential business, then see what the chatter is on the social platforms.
 
To do this, you can look up your competitors on the big four - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, or if you’ve got more niche markets look at those platforms like LinkedIn or Snapchat  or Peach.
 
But there are some tools, again, for free, that can open up your view to what your potential customers are talking about.
 
Tagboard is all about the hashtags, which are key to user interaction on Instagram and Twitter. Simply plugin in the keywords you’ve identified and dive into the rich amount of information that is returned to you.

 
Tagboard
 

Another great tool with similar rich research insights is Buzzsumo. Again plugin your keywords and sit back and learn!

 
Buzzsumo
 

What this research will tell you about how to start your online business:

  • Which social channels have the most people talking about your product or service
  • What kind of content has the most followings or shareability
  • Start building up a picture of the people who are you target audience
  • New competitors that you didn’t find on Google
  • Influencers that you can build a relationship with to help with your marketing.

 
 What if no one is selling your product or service?

If you’re in the gifted situation of having a great idea that no one else has ever considered, then you can test for a market by seeing what interest you can generate around your new idea. Use hashtags (Instagram) and keywords (Pinterest) to put your posts in front of potential audiences. Then see what kind of following you can build. If you’re targeting a sizable audience, it shouldn’t take long to see if people are responding or not.

Summary

Starting your own online business takes a lot more work than many people expect. Before you get started, one of the best things that you can do to guarantee your success is to learn as much about your digital market as possible. Know for sure that you’ve got a market to sell to before you put in money and time.
 
Simple exercises that don’t take  a lot of time and cost you nothing, can tell you a wealth of information. Don’t underestimate the power of looking at competitors. Know the actual real life search activity related to your ‘thing’ and get across all of the conversations that people are having in the social sphere.

Go forth and proper my friends, and best of luck.