10 mistakes to avoid when setting up an online business

mistakes to avoid blog header

Starting an online business is hard. Are you ready? If so, then try your hardest to avoid these all too common mistakes. Now don’t get me wrong – making mistakes is a great way to learn, but some of these can destroy you at the very start. Even though you have your most drive and energy at the start of a new project, you can also have it all taken away if things go drastically wrong. When bigger businesses make mistakes they can sometimes cover it up and move on, but when you’re a fresh start-up you can be forgotten about much easier by people.

According to conventional wisdom, half of start-up businesses fail. As hard as that may sound, don’t let it discourage you. Some start-ups should fail in order for them to learn from their mistakes and some then move onto the next big thing. Elon Musk one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs has failed multiple times. Below are 10 mistakes that many business owners including myself wished that we would have avoided when starting.

1. Waiting too long to launch

This is one of the biggest mistakes that I see people make when trying to start a business. I’m guilty for this too. It took me way over a year from originally coming up with the idea for my business to actually go live. Now I’m not saying that you should rush things and as soon as you come up with an idea just get it out there without any planning. That would be a bit silly. What you should do is get everything ready for launching and then just launch it. Don’t do what I and many other people are guilty of and get everything ready and then find negatives and then spend too much time fixing them. You will always find things that need doing, there are still things to this day that I need to improve in my business. So stop messing, if you have something that you want to sell and you have a plan on how you’re going to sell it, then just get it out there!

You will more than likely never release something that’s perfect for the first time. The best way to actually learn is by making mistakes. As long as people can comfortably search and buy from your ecommerce website then there is nothing to really worry about. One top tip would be to get everything ready and get a family or friend to test the whole buying process. If they find it simple and easy then you know it’s ready to go live to the world.

The clock is ticking - setting up an online business

2. Trying to do everything yourself

In the nicest way possible, you can’t-do it all. I’m sure there’s many of you that think you can do everything and I’m sure you could, but time is the only thing that we can’t get back. Even if it’s a one-person business, there are so many different tasks that need doing and you can’t-do them all at a high standard in a quick timescale. I’m guilty of trying to do everything myself and the result was my project being delayed by about a year.

Sure, I did everything that I wanted to do but I missed out on a year of trading, learning and most importantly time. It’s such a huge task to do everything yourself if you’re happy to lose touch with friends, family and discard relationships to get everything done then sure, go ahead!

I guess all this comes down to funds but have a good think about how much your time is worth and what impact you could be making to your business if you’re focusing on the stuff that you’re good at. Do you really need to be working out how to code, host and design your own website when you can pay a monthly price to have everything you need?

The same applies to things like taking photos of your stock if you have never touched a camera in your life. Think about how important it is to get something like that right and how long it would take you to get to the level of being even an average photographer? Never mind having to edit the images too and the cost of expensive camera equipment. Now, don’t get me wrong if you’re already even just okay at any of these things then, of course, don’t get someone in to do it. Time is money, always remember that.

Don't try to do everything yourself - setting up an online business

3. Not bothering with any online marketing

Sorry to break it to you but releasing your shiny new ecommerce website to the world does not mean that you’re going to get a flood of sales through your site. How do you think your favourite online brands found you? You don’t just search for a company that you’ve never heard of, do you? If you do, then maybe it’s time to take a break from the internet for a bit. I’d love to be able to describe what life would be like without online marketing, but honestly, I really don’t know what it would be like. I guess it would be just one big mess.

So why is it important to take a shot at online marketing? The quick answer is – It works. Better than anything. What do you think works better, spending £5000 on covering your local bus in advertising or spending £5000 on Google AdWords? The answer if I’m being honest does depend on your business. If you’re a car wash company then the bus would be a good investment. But 90% of the time, the best way to spend money on marketing is online. Always have a plan of who you want to reach and how you are going to do it.

Online marketing - setting up an online business

4. Hiring the wrong people

I think one of the biggest problems when hiring your first member of staff is how much you expect from them. So try and make sure that the person that you are wanting to take on understands your rate of innovation. The business at this stage is small and agile, which means you have a high rate of innovation and growth, and with that comes work. Lots of work. More than likely that work will go beyond their job description.

When advertising for the position, make sure that you state that you’re a new online business and try and explain as much as you can about what the role will involve. A good way to try and remove the people who just want any job from applying would be to write the position description based on one job role that will be the future employee’s main role. When you get them to the interview stage you can then ask if they’re comfortable helping with other things too. This will stop the people who just want any kind of job from applying.

If you hire the wrong person for your business and then, when you find out too late that they’re a poor fit, you have to fire them, which is awkward and a waste of productivity. Don’t hire just anyone. Make sure it’s people who are as passionate about your business as you are. When I started my business, I had my friends and family help out and as good as it was at the time, you have to remember that you’ll be in charge and people can make mistakes. It is also a lot harder to try and get rid of someone who works for you who is also your friend or family member. My advice would be to try and think of the bigger picture and try and treat that friend or family member as a real staff member.

Hiring the wrong people - setting up an online business

5. Ignoring the legal stuff

I know this doesn’t seem like such a big deal right now but there are certain legal things that you need to get right before you start. The first big one is with your business name. If you are using someone else’s business name without knowing, then you could get in a lot of trouble and more than likely will have to rebrand your whole business from scratch. Make sure that you check everywhere online for your business name.

Check the obvious places like search engines and social platforms first and then start checking a site like companycheck.co.uk and https://www.gov.uk/search-for-trademark. Same applies for logos. Make sure you’re getting something made that doesn’t look anything like another business. I would suggest finding a professional designer to do this for you as they can not only make you a great brand identity they can also check if there are things similar out there.

Other legal mistakes an online business may make can include failing to outline what duties a company partner will have, and what rights to the business they may own. You can prevent any mistakes or conflicts by making a partnership agreement. This is only directed to people who are starting a business with other people. If you are a sole trader, then the process is a lot simpler. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that since your partners or lenders are your friends or family, you don’t need formal documentation.

Legal stuff - setting up an online business

6. Forgetting about discipline

There are many reasons why being your own boss is a great way to work. While it is true that you can wake up whenever you want, work from home, watch TV, play with your dog and take regular naps. What you’ll find if you do all that though is that you will have to get a ‘real’ job after a couple of months as you haven’t done any real work. Having the personal discipline to make sure you get done what you need to get done is really hard when you’re surrounded by comfort and freedom. It really does make the wannabes and the true entrepreneurs stand out though.

When you are your own boss, you will have to learn how to manage yourself and your time in order to be more productive and efficient. You may find that you need to dress like you’re going to the office or you have to work a late night to make up for that daytime shopping trip. If you aren’t working on a consistent schedule, then your road to success will be a lot longer.

Self-discipline is vital

7. Not knowing what your customers want

How do you know what your customers want if you’ve never sold anything before or you’ve never had any interest in the market that you’re going into? Well, of course, the easiest fix would be to get interested and become a customer in your own market. Buy off your competitors and take on board the pros and cons of the whole process from start to finish.

You really need to know what your customers want from you. What will make them shop on your website instead of your competitors? This is where research comes in. Research your competition and their adverts to find out what attracts the customers in. Check out their social media and look at what your competitor’s customers are saying and asking for.

This is where being a fan of your industry is a huge plus. You will know what grabs your attention when you go on your competitor’s sites and you should also know what will make it even better. Maybe a competitor is offering free delivery on orders over £50 but you only ever seem to spend £30? Maybe it’s a discount that draws you in? Whatever it is that sparks your attention, do the same but in a different way.

Understand what your customers want - setting up an online business

8. Not being different to your competiton

The chances of your business having competition are extremely high unless you’re in some kind of unique market. Instead of understanding and replicating everything your competitors do, focus more on the reasons why your potential customers will select you. Remember that these potential customers have more than likely already bought from your competition and you need to give them a reason to move away from a business that they already trust.

Depending on your market, it can be really hard to stand out. Especially when you really aren’t doing anything that different. The best advice on this topic would be to try and think of a way that you can stand out. Every business in the world will already be trying to provide quality products and a world-class service, so you need to up your game and research what would make it work for you.

I remember when starting my vintage clothing business, the market was a bit old fashioned and the industry was more focused on brick and mortar stores than online. I was obsessed with smooth looking websites and making an affordable vintage brand. I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel and neither do you. All you have to do is take things that you like from other businesses that aren’t even related and just implement them on your own.

Stand out from your competition-

9. Ignoring the competition

Ignoring the competition is another potentially fatal business mistake. If you don’t know what your main competitors are doing, then you are literally taking a stab in the dark. Imagine if you set up your website and start trying to sell a product for double the price of what your competition is selling it for? You need to know everything about them. From how big they are, where they are based, how they ship their items, what products they sell and anything else you can find out. I could tell you where my main competitors live!

Not in a creepy way, but websites like companycheck.co.uk tell you everything. One thing that I would suggest that you do straight away is to buy from your competition. For the plain and simple reason of getting to see what you’re up against. You can figure out their strengths and their weaknesses for you to then hopefully resolve within your business.

One last point on this topic would be to really make sure where about you fit into your market. Is your competition in some kind of order? Is there one business who are at the top? Is there one business that you know have a lot of weaknesses that you could potentially overtake? Find out where you want to really sit in the market after year 1 and after year 2 etc.

Never take your eyes off your competition -.setting up an online business

10. Not having enough money coming in

An extremely high percentage of businesses will not make money when they first open and a large proportion of new businesses will not make significant money for years. The exception to that would be people who have worked for a company and then gone to set up their own in the same line of business. Unless you can guarantee your income from somewhere else or maybe you have money already saved up to get you through the starting up stage then I would recommend keeping the day job for now.

This means that you and your family have to have enough money to live on while your new business is getting established, as well as enough money for the business to survive and grow. Not getting the money to do this ready before you start your business is a serious mistake. I’d suggest that you read an article I wrote about how to start a business with no money so that you can get an understanding on how you can go about starting if you have nothing at all.

Keep an eye on the finances

If you’d like to learn more about setting up your own online shop, read on for more insights into running your own online business here.