The last two decades have seen the sharp rise of digital technology and globalized trade. Most people across the globe enjoy internet access and despite all the perils we grapple with daily, it’s encouraging to acknowledge that we live in a time ripe with unprecedented opportunities and potentials for business development. Thanks to all the groundbreaking innovations all around us (and smartphones), the amount of commerce being conducted online today has experienced growth at a scale never before experienced. In other words, the internet is a steadily growing industry and if you start an online business today, your business regardless of how big or small is bound to enjoy the benefits of this astounding growth.
What I’m trying to tell you is that today, you can literally launch a virtual business and make money over time, with next to no capital for your business launch. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you though, because I imagine you must have come across one or two online entrepreneurs yourself. An online entrepreneur is in the most basic of terms, someone who conducts his or her businesses through the internet. Such a person is conventionally either the owner, a founder or a manager of an internet-based business such as virtual companies, freelance consultants and paid blogging, to mention but a few.
There are numerous types of online entrepreneurs in Nigeria today and they all cut across every aspect of our economy. For instance, we have private individuals selling niche products, SMEs in Nigeria selling commoditized products online and professionals offering their services for hire by foreign companies or partnerships. For some background, commoditized products are those products every one of us needs such as clothes; while Niche products are unique goods or services that serve a specific customer base. They are often made in small batches or only on demand and examples include: unique beaded necklaces, handmade frozen yoghurt, organic leather satchels, etc.
As with all other ventures worthwhile, becoming an online entrepreneur is a big-time commitment but one that pays off immensely. You get to manage your time as best as you’d like and you don’t even need to quit your day job right away. You could keep earning your full-time income while self-developing as an online entrepreneur in your free time. Where you choose to quit your day job from the onset, you could travel the world with ease while you work and earn. You could escape the constraints of the 9-5 lifestyle and own your time completely. You could try your hand at paid advertising, online business coaching; creating a digital product or course, becoming a Youtuber, coding, web-developing, paid copywriting, starting a podcast, or selling products on sites such as Aliexpress, Amazon or even Jumia.
Sounds appealing doesn’t it?
Starting off as an online entrepreneur is a huge decision, every step is vital if your new business is to survive and thrive. Don’t feel discouraged though, huge decisions are what makes an entrepreneur’s life more interesting, and worth working for. Being an online entrepreneur has several advantages and high on this list is the fact that it offers an easy testing ground for new business concepts. For instance, if you are a web developer, you could build your own landing page, drive traffic to it and see whether it works or not. If the business is selling a product, you can run your company literally from your bedroom, fulfilling incoming orders through secure online channels. If you are a freelance professional, you can market your services and get paid through the online channel easily.
We all have bills to pay, but as an online entrepreneur, you can set your own financial goals not just month to month, but day-to-day. If you have a team, they can operate from different countries, and team meetings can be arranged on Zoom, Skype or other similar services with zero monetary cost. You are free to seek out opportunities that interest you and flex the skills you’ve worked deliberately to develop. You can direct yourself towards different paths and fields of expertise – an empowering thought and an even more empowering practice. All these would afford you a remarkable opportunity to design your own paycheck – and your own weekly workload.
Now as glamorous as all these sound, please understand that being an online entrepreneur isn’t without its fair share of challenges and hurdles. Nothing good comes easy and so SMEs in Nigeria run as online businesses know that it takes a tremendous amount of resources and risk to run their businesses successfully so as to build a strong customer base. It’s insanely hard to market a virtual business in Nigeria for very many reasons but I’d like to point out a few crucial ones here, in hopes of proffering solutions to them.
One of the most daunting hurdles for SMEs in Nigeria run by online entrepreneurs is the sheer degree of work. You have to work twice as hard to gain trust not just because your business has no physical office but also because the identity of your target market can be confusing at times. A way to deal with this is to internalise the answers to these questions: Who are my customers? What do they like? How do I approach them? What makes my business unique? What do I offer those other businesses who operate in the same niche don’t? What grabs their attention? How do I make them come back for more? Answer these questions right and you are on your way to creating a much clearer marketing strategy than even your competitors might expect.
Secondly -when you’ve figured out these answers, create your business plan. The lack of a good business plan or strategy is one of the most common reasons for the failure of online entrepreneurs in Nigeria. A good marketing plan for your business focuses on a lot more elements than just getting people to click on your website and read your content. You need to know what makes people who visit your page consider your services. You need to know what can nudge them to buy your products. Digital marketing is everything when it comes to being a successful online entrepreneur so don’t ignore this. Social media, blogs, email, Twitter shares and Facebook advertising are some of your best tools; use them wisely.
Next on the list is the challenge of the safety of your customers, users or subscribers. If you’re going to deal with customer data or online payments, you need to make sure that your customers feel protected enough to shop your products. Cybertheft is on the increase so you’d need to invest in ways to ensure that your business is as safe as can be. Even the big companies like Facebook and Dropbox have had issues with safety, so you need to factor in how to protect your business and your customers’ details from all sorts of data leaks and hacker attacks. If you want to make your customers feel safe, you should really invest in your hosting. That way, your website would be protected on a dedicated server, with over the clock support.
In addition to the foregoing, you need to pay attention to the proper assembly and management of your team members. You would have to delegate at some point in the growth of your business and as an online entrepreneur, you would learn quickly that assembling a great team is no small feat. Especially when they might be expected to work remotely. You need to be careful here, create a strong nucleus around whom to build your company. Finding people with the right combination of skill and work ethic and paying them commensurately is key to the expansion of your business so take this seriously.
These are some of the challenges to expect and in sharing them here, I hope you won’t be caught unawares. Ultimately though, if you are interested in starting your own online business, understand that there’s no better time like the present to start. We live in a golden age of wealth. Don’t wait any longer, and don’t put it off until next year. Take your ideas and run with them; who knows by this time next year, you could have your very own profitable online business; and it might be you sharing your own business secrets with us!