So You Want to Start an Online Business?

BET.com delivers tips from a web expert.

Posted: 11/02/2011 07:04 PM EDT
Filed Under social media

Do you dream of running your own online business, but don’t know where to start? Even if your company is already off the ground, are you doing your best to make it stand out? BET.com sat down with Ty Ahmad-Taylor, web developer and CEO of Fanfeedr.com, for advice on everything from creating a product to keeping your customers coming back.

 

Solve a problem.

 

First, if you’re trying to decide what type of product to produce, Ahmad-Taylor says you should start by creating a product that solves a problem and has value in today’s marketplace. However, don’t forget to invest some time in canvassing would-be customers, using their feedback to your advantage. You also have to be realistic about how your product would hold up in the current marketplace. “It would be really cool to have a Ferrari-powered SUV, but I don’t know that anyone would want to buy a Ferrari-powered SUV. So you better do market research to understand the nature of people wanting to purchase your products,” he says.

 

 

Conduct research ahead of time.

 

Once you’ve thought of a brand name for your business, you’ll want to be sure you own all of the rights to that name, not only in the domain space, but in the social media space as well. “A key example of that was Netflix, when they were doing that back and forth over whether or not to split up their DVD business,” he says. “They were going to create a separate business called Qwikster. They did not own the Twitter handle for Qwikster, which they should have researched before.”

 

 

Build a prototype.

 

It can be a lengthy process, but new technologies have made bringing your vision to life easier each day. “Every single day, as time permits, it becomes easier to get a group of technologists to actually build your idea and to bring your vision to life,” he says. Once your prototype is in place, test run it again with customers, which could lead to additional opportunities for fundraising, Ahmad-Taylor says.

 

 

Reach out to the pros.

 

What if you don’t know the first thing about building a website? Don’t let that stop you, Ahmad-Taylor says. He suggests using companies like Odesk or Top Coder, which can help find professionals to do everything from building your website to building a prototype.

 

 

Get social.

 

Social media channels are more direct and more powerful than other channels available to marketers or brand-builders, Ahmad-Taylor says, but be sure to use them wisely. “I wouldn’t post anything that you wouldn’t be proud of, or that you wouldn’t be comfortable saying two or three years down the road, because anything you put up there is going to be up there for posterity,” he says.

 

You should also provide value in your social media channels. Don’t bombard consumers with pleas to buy your product. “I have a friend who is selling recyclable bags to take to the supermarket so you don’t have to use paper or plastic bags. So, for his Twitter account, he’s talking about issues surrounding sustainability and the local food movement. So he’s building up authority and a reputation within the sector he’s operating,” he says.

 

 

Keep customers coming back.

 

“The only way to do that is to continue proving value through social channels, to listen to your customers and to engage in authentic conversation with them. Also, be transparent and up front with them about the things that are expected,” he says. Engage by responding to your customer’s questions and comments on message boards and social media channels. This will build a connection with consumers, which is invaluable to any successful venture, Ahmad-Taylor says.

 

Find more of Ty Ahmad-Taylor’s tips for getting your business off the ground on his Facebook page.

 (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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