I was contacted today by a journalist who is doing a feature article on the founders of an online dating website for wine lovers. He wants to know the challenges faced by small business owners when starting an online business.
I have worked with many online entrepreneurs, including those who advertise on our website. In my opinion, the most difficult aspects of starting an online business for small entrepreneurs are:
No clear idea of how to start a business on the Web. To have a business online, you need to have a web presence — which is a website. However, many small and home-based entrepreneurs do not know how to create, much less manage, a website. As a result, they become severely constrained in terms of how to present their businesses on the Web. They go to free web hosting sites, which may be good for their budget, but not for presenting a professional image on the Web. Others create websites that do a poor job of showcasing the products or services they offer. We even had an advertiser who is an internet marketing consultant (!) with an poorly designed website — his above the fold contains nothing except a header graphic with no logo, a picture of a man with absolutely no content, and to read what the website is about you have to scroll down to see any text.
No clear idea of what business to start. Everyone wants to earn money: and the more earnings, the better. However, many do not know how to actually earn money on the Web. They hear of a business opportunity, and buy into it only to find that they can’t make the kind of dough they were promised initially. Or they may have heard about earning through advertising, but they do not know how to write compelling content. Worse, many thinks the Web can give them “quick money” only to find that succeeding online takes a lot of work and effort.
Underestimating the difficulties of getting traffic – Many small entrepreneurs think that all they need to do is to put up a website (or a blog) and visitors will come to them automatically; only to learn that getting traffic is not as easy as first thought. Their site has to compete with more established and authority sites in their field, which typically dominates the organic search engine results. As a result, they feel compelled to spend hundreds, if not thousands per month, doing pay per click marketing in the search engines.
Failure to understand how to convert visitors to buyers. Many small online entrepreneurs think that all they need is to open up a storefront on the Web and they can rake in huge sales immediately — only to generate only a couple of sales in 6 months. They complain that the $10,000 loan they took out for their website and inventory has already been depleted, and yet they haven’t been able to break even at the very least. Turning visitors to buyers is different from just getting traffic. To do so, it is important to look at every element on the website and see if it conveys trust and entices buyers to purchase.