The temptation to start your own online business can be a strong: controlling your own destiny, pride in ownership, lower overhead, and exponential growth potential. This can all sound very alluring, especially if you feel you have a unique product or idea to share with the world or feel confined by working for someone else. But as promising as owning your own online business may sound, there are many challenges that you’ll have to face should you choose blazing your own path towards success.
Just as every good dream should be rooted in practical thinking and action, I wanted to highlight some of the hardest parts of launching an online business. By knowing more about the potential challenges that lie ahead and making informed decisions, you can better prepare yourself and your business for success.
Execution: Turning Ideas Into Action
It may sound obvious, but one of the most difficult parts of staring an online business is actually taking the leap to turn your brilliant ideas into action. You may have a fantastic product or service that could help people, but without taking the risks involved with bringing those ideas to fruition, they may simply squander in your mind.
Once you start to put your ideas into action, you’re likely to discover that ideas are the fun part, while the actual execution of your part is quite challenging. But once you take that leap of faith and put your ideas into motion, you’ll find that the potential rewards are huge.
Establishing Your Niche
One of the most exciting aspects of starting your own online business is how many resources are right at your fingertips. Unlike starting a brick-and-mortar business, you can easily access the tools, resources, and experts you need to get started online relatively quickly. The real trick, however, is making your business last, and one of the most important–and difficult–ways to do that is by establishing your niche. Because so many people can now start a business, you need to figure out what makes your product or service stand out from the broad field of competition.
Clarifying for yourself and others what makes your business unique or how you do something better, can help put you ahead of the pack. You also want to consider who your target audience is and how you’re responding to their particular needs and desires. Creating and maintaining a clear focus for both your message and your audience will also help inform the strategies you use to grow your business.
Assembling the Right Team
When you work for someone else, you don’t often have much say in who your coworkers are. But when you’re launching your own online business, you have the freedom, opportunity and control to assemble the right team for the job. Finding the best people, however, is not necessarily a simple task–companies large and small struggle with the challenge. Many entrepreneurs and small business owners also have a hard time relinquishing control of the reigns, wanting to be involved of every aspect of their vision. However, with careful selection and persistence, you can build a team that is even greater than the sum of its parts.
In addition to finding team members with the exceptional talent and the right skills, bringing together a group that works well together can be difficult. A small online startup has to functions much like a family to maintain harmony and avoid dysfunction. Learning what motivates each team members and how their skills and personalities complement each other is critical for a successful business.
Capital and Resource Management
Building capital and generating consistent cash flow can be some of the biggest challenges of launching any business, especially online. While you may not have to invest in overhead costs faced by traditional brick-and-mortars, to start your business and sustain it for the long term, you’re going to have to have a solid financial plan in place. For some this requires maintaining their current day job and slowly building an online business in their free time. While for others, getting started my require angel investors and small business loans. In either case, ensuring that your cash flow generation remains consistent enough not only for growth, but also for downturns and emergencies that may occur, is vital.
And while many small businesses handle their own bookkeeping and taxes, as you grow, you’re very likely going to need professional accounting services. Depending on your line of business, you probably also want to consider legal support as well.
Technology and Security
As an online business, investing in the right technology and adequate security is tantamount to success, but these two issues can often be the most difficult part of getting started. For some startups, technological needs may initially be limited to finding the right e-commerce platform. But once your business begins to grow, you’re going to need to invest in reliable servers, enhanced security features, and likely an individual or team responsible for managing this component of your business.
Security breaches and website outages can do serious damage to the reputation and financial stability of an online business. Keeping your technology and security updated to protect against the latest threats is essential to building your business and maintaining customer confidence.
Product and Service Logistics
While having an online business changes how a business will approach managing the products and services they offer, you still need to have a plan in place for how you will get them to your customers. You may not have a storefront, but if you’re selling a physical product you’ll still establish a solid relationship with vendors, determine storage requirements, and configure shipping logistics and costs. Service providers require a different sort of logistics, but they can be as equally challenging to manage. You’ll have to determine how you will deliver your services to the customer, establish how you will scale your services as you grow, and handle disruptions in service should they arise.
You’ll also need to establish a customer service protocol to ensure that your customer’s are satisfied with your products and services, and that you can handle any concerns or complaints they may have. Additionally, and no less importantly, you’ll need to figure out how your customers will pay you–easily and securely–for your business.
Marketing and Customer Acquisition
Offering a great product or service and managing a well-run online business is great, but if you’re not reaching your audience and growing your customer base, all of your efforts will be in vain. Figuring out the best ways to market to your target customers and actually convert them can be one of the most difficult parts of getting started.
Fortunately, as an online business you have access to a wide range of tools that weren’t available in the past, but can help you grow tremendously. Building a functional and attractive website is only the very beginning, but by leveraging the power of digital marketing, including SEO, social media, and online advertising, you’ll be well equipped for customer acquisition and retention. The key to customer acquisition is creating a model that is repeatable, scalable, and cost effective.
Uncertainty and Risk Management
The optimism required to start an ambitious online business can often cloud the vision of a business owner, preventing them from considering what potential problems could arise down the road and how to manage them. Especially in this financial climate, there’s a great deal of uncertainty and risk involved with starting out on your own. However, by anticipating those risks and developing a strategy for how to manage issues and emergencies even before they arise, you’ll be better equipped to weather the storms and keep your business afloat.
Obviously there are some issues that you may not be able to prepare for, but the more you can consider the risks, study what has worked and what hasn’t for others, and keep your problem solving skills sharp, the better chances you’ll stand of succeeding in the face of adversity.
Work/Life Balance and Stress Management
Starting an online business promises a great deal of freedom and flexibility to entrepreneurs, but many often forget about the late nights and high stress levels that can come along with striking out on your own. Starting a business will require putting in those extra hours and making certain sacrifices, but the key to success, both personally and professionally is maintaining a healthy balance.
Set office hours and stick to them, allow yourself to enjoy your downtime with friends and family, and find healthy ways to reduce your stress levels. Doing so will not only keep you relaxed and healthy to maintain your business in the long run, but it will also help to refuel your passion and inspire you to aim even higher.
As I mentioned in the beginning, having a great idea is all well and good, but one of the hardest parts on launching an online business is seeing the idea through to fruition. You’ll need a strong will and steady persistence to make your business last in the face of all of these challenges. You’re bound to have difficult days, weeks, and even months sometimes, but by keeping your eyes focused on your goals, and persevering through the difficult phases of growth, the rewards you reap will be that much sweeter.
Look to mentors, trusted advisors, and industry leaders that you admire to learn what has kept them going. Every business owner faces struggles as they work to achieve their dreams. What sets the successful ones apart is their ability to face the challenges head on and persistently pursue their goals again and again.
Starting your own online business certainly presents a wide range of challenges that could easily frighten away the timid. But by adequately preparing yourself for the difficulties ahead, shoring up your resources, and remaining nimble enough to adapt to changes as they come, you’ll be well prepared to turn your dreams into a successful reality. (Read a related post on how to start a digital marketing strategy for your business)
Are you considering launching an online business or have you already? Let us know what you have found to be the hardest parts and how you have addressed them in the comment section.
- “The 8 Great Challenges Every Business Faces (And How To Master Them All)” (Forbes)
- “What Are The Challenges of an Online Business?” (Chron)
- “The Hardest Part Of Building A Start-up” (Forbes)