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Kayleigh Alexandra from microstartups.org offers some advice on starting an online business during furlough.
Being furloughed stirs up a host of emotions.
It can be boring, terrifying, a welcome break. Ultimately, being furloughed in these unprecedented times is confusing more than anything. It’s impossible to know when you’ll be able to work again, whether your job will survive the remainder of the pandemic and what new jobs will be available when this is all over. This is why many professionals are picking up their laptops and considering alternative revenue streams for the first time.
If they can’t do their job, why not explore something new?
If this sounds like you here are a few great tips for getting started with an online business for the first time while furloughed.
Before you start up any kind of business during furlough, you should speak to your employer to let them know your intentions. It is a matter of courtesy, but it also allows you to check your contract of employment in case there are any issues with you doing this from your employer’s perspective.
So often, online businesses succeed on the strength of their initial idea alone.
When working on your basic concept, have the idea of your elevator pitch in mind. You may not be looking to convince anyone to invest in you, but it helps to keep ideas around your business focused – it helps you stand out against your competitors. We may be in a global pandemic with thousands of closed businesses, but the industries that are thriving right now are incredibly crowded, with little room for new ventures to gain market share without doing something original or incredibly well. Think about what your idea does better than a competitor and how you can leverage that to your success.
The online industries that are thriving right now (ecommerce, software as a service, bloggers) offer something that isn’t heavily affected by the global pandemic but have simple ideas, product ranges and solutions that everyone can understand.
It’s not enough to just have a good idea, you need to distil it to its most simple explanation and use that as your starting point for everything from branding to execution. If you struggle to collate your ideas into a clear and concise message, tools such as Grammarly can dramatically improve everything from social posts to press releases.
If you were walking down the street and stumbled upon a store with broken windows, mis-labeled products and a sense that not everything is legitimate would you choose to spend your money there? Of course not, so why wouldn’t you apply the same standards to your website.
A website is the epicentre of an online business. It’s where all of your customers and clients will get a first real impression of you. It’s where your audience will congregate and where you can apply interesting ideas that catch the attention of new visitors.
You need to play to conventions of trust. Trust is a hard thing to earn online these days, so it’s paramount that you instil a sense of it within your website visitors. Reviews and testimonies are a great way to put people at ease immediately, acting as a clear sign that other people have enjoyed working or shopping with you before. While not the most exciting part of a website, Contact Us and About Us pages help tell the story of your brand and show there are genuine people behind the operation.
It may feel like you’re overthinking things when you have a great product or unique service to sell, but the general aesthetic and functionality of your website is incredibly important. If people find navigating your website frustrating, they’re not going to get into business with you, whether that’s hiring you or purchasing products.
This is partly why template website builders such as Shopify are so popular. They offer a simple want to build an industry standard web store and include numerous tools and apps that can be used to add professional flourishes. Using one of these template builders as your starting point can give you a head start against competitors fiddling with bespoke sites.
Your website also needs to offer the clearest possible presentation of your idea. If your website is complicated to read, navigate or order from you will frustrate visitors and find yourself running in place.
Would you consider yourself a “creative type”?
Unfortunately, many of us don’t, especially those of us who are more business-minded or analytical. It’s fine not to be creative, but it’s important to recognise the importance of creative outputs to make sure your new online business thrives.
Online businesses and their website need content to thrive, catch attention and ultimately grow. Content can inspire visitors to invest in your products, draw users from other platforms to your website and afford you the opportunity to grow your brand with personal insight. All of these factors line up to give your business more visibility and context.
Great content can take many forms. For example you can start an onsite blog where you talk about the history of the business or discuss industry trends and topics. Video content can help better explain or demonstrate the products you’re selling or offer insight into your service offering.
You don’t have to be a skilled artist or the world’s most eloquent writer to create great content for your website. Follow best practices for web content and make your content as informative and actionable as possible to fully engage with your audience.
Just because there’s a pandemic doesn’t mean people aren’t tweeting.
It’s vital that all online business owners understand the power and potential of social media. The main platforms are fantastic spaces to grow your fanbase, develop a relationship with followers and promote everything from products to your latest blog post.
Succeeding on social media isn’t just about getting on every platform you can, following people in the hope they follow you back and pumping out post after post on everything you can think of. It’s much more strategic than that and you have to consider both the platform that would best suit your brand or industry, and the best way to approach an audience on that platform.
There is an art to curating the perfect social media profile and keeping an audience engaged. It can take a while to grow your base on Facebook or Twitter, but once you start creating engagement with your followers and encourage them to share your pages with friends and family your reach can grow.
It’s important to keep an eye on what the big trending topics across social media are. This is essential for spotting key new business opportunities and noticing which topics are gaining traction just before they hit their peak. Free tools from companies such as TrendWatching and GoogleTrends can help you keep an eye on this sort of information and maximise your timely reaction.