There are many advantages to running a business where commerce takes place across the World Wide Web. From not being limited by location to 24-hour accessibility ever day of every week, owning and operating an Internet business has distinct perks, but when you’re eager to throw your entrepreneurial hat into the Internet’s vast ring, it can be easy to overlook the difficulties that accompany such an endeavor.
Regardless of whether you’re selling socks, stocks or clocks, there are real pitfalls when you conduct an online business effort. From adequately calculating your online shipping needs to keeping up with software and hardware updates, the needs of an Internet business are unique, real and surmountable. Here is a list of what you need to look out for before you hang up your virtual shingle.
There are a number of potential legal issues that must be addressed before your online business can have smooth sailing, some of which also plague more-traditional business models. Some of the main concerns are:
- URL. Before you even start your website design, make sure your web address is available and register it. Be sure also to check that your company’s name isn’t being used by someone else, that it isn’t trademarked by anyone else, and that you’re able to protect your company name and logo with a trademark registration.
- Copyright. Make sure your web developer hasn’t tried to maintain any control of your website in your contract.
Computer Illiteracy or Low Literacy
Regardless of what you sell or provide online, as an online business owner, you’ll need to have more than a perfunctory knowledge of the Internet, computers, coding and the like. You don’t need to be an expert at seven different computer languages in order to run an online business, but in order to hire people, contract out work, market effectively and the like, you do need to know what your business needs, and whether or not the people you’re entrusting those needs to can accomplish them. If you’re weak in this area, take some classes and spend some time with online tutorials.
One problem that arises from an online business is the difficulty virtuality creates in developing relationships with customers and other businesses. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have an advantage because they get face-to-face contact and interaction with customers and potential customers.
When it comes to building business relationships, having a local presence somewhere is also beneficial for the same reasons. Even with video conferencing, email and other technological tools, it can take a while to overcome the deficit inherent in online communications.
Privacy and Security Issues
A mean-spirited hacker can ruin your reputation and create a legal and practical mess. If you aren’t able to take adequate precautions to protect your customers’ data, chances are good that you will have a hard time getting and keeping business, and sadly, hackers can successfully circumvent even the best in online protection.
Keep close tabs on all your data, and if you do discover that your security measures have been breached, be honest with your customers, and deal with the fallout quickly and efficiently.
Valuing Tech Over People
While technology is certainly the nuts and bolts that will keep your online business up and humming, it’s the people who work for you and the people who utilize your goods and services that matter most.
It can be tempting to believe that an Internet company is run by the Internet, but so far, that isn’t the case. Treat employees and customers like your most valuable assets, and you’re much more likely to stay afloat — even when your website goes down.
One of the most expensive aspects of running an online company is keeping your hardware and software updated. From servers that need upgrading to aging laptops, printers, routers and more, staying abreast of technology’s regular changes is essential. If you plan for yearly updating expenditures that will not cease, you’ll be able to stay on top of the necessary tech trends that can keep your business in the black.
Running an online business has many advantages, and being able to reach a global marketplace while being your own boss is a pretty good situation, but there are downsides to an Internet business, too. Thankfully, those downsides can be overcome simply by staying attuned to them and addressing them as they arise.
Jason Harris is a contributing blogger. He lives in Spokane and operates an online running store.