15 Ways How Not to Start an Online Business

Online businesses are intriguing for various reasons. I personally like that I have the opportunity to sell something to someone that’s on the other side of the world while I’m sleeping. My store is always open and the “rent” is very little. What’s better than that?

Lots of people are taking the plunge every day and starting their own online businesses, because, why not? The barriers of entry are fairly low which might make it seem easy but it’s anything but.

Here’s a list of things not to do when you start your online business. (Unfortunately for me, I made most of these mistakes personally. Fortunately for you, you can learn from my mistakes so you don’t make the same ones.)

  1. Waste months trying to come up with a name. A name doesn’t have to be perfect. A name isn’t what’s going to make or break your business. Sure, the name is important but its not the end-all, be-all. There will be something that sticks out at the beginning of the process and that’s probably the one that you should stick with. Besides, you can always change your name whenever you want further down the road. This is more so an excuse not to get started than anything else.
  2. Spend lots of money on a theme and/or a website. You can spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on this kind of stuff. Sure, it’s nice to have but it’s not going to make you any money. Plus, I haven’t heard of anyone saying “hmm, that was a great product but I didn’t buy it because the website wasn’t pretty.” A lot of e-commerce sites provide plenty of free, cool designs to get you going. Pick one of those. Your wallet will thank you.
  3. Waste money on ads and other marketing. We invested in some sort of program that guaranteed a huge increase in traffic and sales for our old business. The problem was that they said it would take 3 months for it to really get going. The bigger problem was that yes, we got a huge increase in traffic during that first month but I suspect that most of these were bots as we didn’t get a single sale out of it. It also set us back like $500 which is a lot for a business that’s just getting started. It’s much better to organically create and grow a following on social networks or other websites. It’s time-consuming but it’s relatively low-cost and you’re building a sustainable foundation of potential long-term customers which is what most businesses would kill for.
  4. Waste time on mission statement. Does anyone even read these anymore? I’ve had a couple of businesses and none of them have had a mission statement. You don’t need one either.
  5. Order a crazy amount of product. It’s nice to have some product on hand but that’s only if it sells through in a decent time period. You shouldn’t have a ridiculous amount of money tied up in inventory if you’re only selling one or two a month. This will kill your business and any momentum you may have really quickly. Start out small and see how things go instead.
  6. Think it’ll happen overnight. Just because you built it, doesn’t mean that they’ll come. It takes time to build a brand. It takes time to build an audience. It takes time to build trust. It takes time to make your first sale. It takes time to gain momentum. See where I’m going with this?
  7. Have no regard for cash flow. Cash flow is king. Without money coming in, you can’t have money going out. The rent needs to get paid and the lights need to stay on somehow. You may have to get creative with your finances for a while and this is where savings and credit will come in handy.
  8. Put all your savings into this idea. If you can’t afford to spare the money, don’t. Chances are good that it’ll be tied up for a while. See numbers 5-7 above. Enough said.
  9. Just set it and forget it. Your business isn’t a microwave. You don’t push a button and eventually sell something. It’ll take some effort on your end. It’ll take you being present. Sometimes it’ll involve communicating with potential customers. Sometimes it’ll involve jumping through hoops. It’ll take staying relevant and continuously improving and creating. If you can’t make this kind of commitment, don’t. Think of something else to do.
  10. Think of your online business as a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes time to get sales. It took weeks until I sold my first item on eBay when I first started. It took months to make a sale on my previous online store. It took 6 months to make my first sale on Etsy. Your online store will hopefully be a part of your life for a while. You just aren’t dating it; you’re putting a ring on it and there is no such thing as divorce. Plan accordingly.
  11. Avoid doing the important things. There are certain things that you keep on putting off for one reason or another. Maybe it’s difficult. Maybe it’s time-consuming. Maybe it’s awkward. Whatever the reason, stop avoiding it. The more of these situations that you can carry out, the better. Learn to deal with weird situations. It’ll make you a better person and a better businessperson.
  12. Lose your patience. There will be bad days. There will be assholes. There will be scam artists. Things will take time to get off the ground. Google will take some time to find you. Potential customers will take time to find you. Trust takes a while to build. There will be times when it’ll be much easier to quit than to keep on going. Don’t do that. There are enough quitters out there and you don’t need to join the masses. Keep on going and learn from the bullshit. Hustle through the struggle!
  13. Have it consume you and your energy. It’s cool that you have an online business. It really is. You should be excited about it! The problem is that no one else will be as excited as you are. It’s okay to talk about your business but it shouldn’t be all that you talk about. You aren’t your business. You are you. Your business can most certainly be a part of you, but it isn’t all that you are. Spend time doing other things that interest and excite you. Be well-rounded. Have fun. You might want to give all your time and energy to your business and that’s a good thing but you can’t really be business 100% of the time. You’ll be burned out in no time. All good things come in balance. Find that balance and you’re golden.
  14. Do what everyone else is doing/selling. The internet is a big place and a lot of the stuff out there is a copy of a copy of a copy. Sorry to break it to you but you aren’t this unique, special snowflake if you do what everyone else is doing. The only way to compete with this business model is by being the cheapest which isn’t the way I’d go. It’ll be better in the long-run if you do your own thing and connect with people who can appreciate that you do things differently.
  15. Keep waiting for the perfect moment to get started. There will never be a “perfect” moment or time to open up your online business. The stars will never align. You’ll never be less busy. You’ll never have enough money. You’ll never run out of excuses as to why it won’t work. You just have to take the leap one day and do it. This is the only way to really learn and improve. Remember, every professional was once a beginner. You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.