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    Taking Your Business Online - Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions

    Have you considered moving your business online, but are not really sure what that will entail? You're not alone. Businesses large and small have expanded their reach by adding an online presence to their brick-and-mortar environment.

    ecommerce shopping

    The internet offers a great opportunity for all small businesses, and along with that power comes unique challenges. Sure, every business owner faces issues daily, however, online entrepreneurs have some especially challenging queries which require specific, no-nonsense answers. These answers are often hard to find in the highly technical or overly promotional web sources.

    As a small business consultant and online business owner myself, here are the answers that I share with my clients. Be armed with knowledge to successfully face these instances with educated confidence and go forth and prosper in your online business.

    Q. Do I have to collect sales tax on online sales?

    A. Whether or not to collect taxes is one of the most confusing aspects of running an online store. Knowing how much to charge and what laws and regulations apply to your location is complex.

    Currently, internet sales taxes are governed and collected by individual state governments. Because of the non-physical nature of internet businesses and the varying state laws, there is a movement to pass a federal law regarding internet taxes called the Marketplace Fairness Act.

    Sales tax is due on all internet purchases in 45 states, and you are required to collect sales tax on your online transactions. Learn about your state's specific laws in this internet sales tax guide.

    Q. How will Europe's new privacy law affect my website?

    A. On May 25, 2018, the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires all businesses and organizations to inform consumers of how their personal information is being collected and used online. If your website collects any private data from a resident of the European Union, you must provide your site users with details as to how that information will be collected and used and give site visitors an opportunity to agree to the use, collection and storage of such information.

    In order to make sure your site is compliant, you will need to adjust your privacy policy, get users' consent to use cookies, and limit the data you collect via your signup and other forms.

    Q. What is an appropriate budget for online advertising?

    A. Many business owners wonder how much they should set aside for online advertising because the model is very different from the print ads that they are accustomed to purchasing. And there are so many different online ad platforms, such as Google Adwords, Google Shopping, Facebook Ads, Instagram and LinkedIn, among others, that it can quickly become overwhelming.

    Based on industry standards here is a good formula you can use as a starting point for your online advertising budget:

    • Spend 3% of your annual revenue on online paid search (Google, Bing, Yelp, etc.) and digital marketing activities, and
    • Spend 1% on social media advertising and marketing (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.)

    This is calculated using the standard rule of 10% of annual revenue as advertising budget and then proportioning an amount to online ads.

    Q. What kinds of tasks should I outsource?

    A. Small businesses, and especially startups, can greatly benefit from today's gig-based, internet-fueled economy. Digital workers are ready and able to provide expert work at affordable prices.

    The easiest and most beneficial items to outsource are bookkeeping, payroll, scheduling and logo branding design, which I did recently with good results.

    Only use reputable services to ensure good quality and follow-through. Look for firms that have developed good workflow processes, excellent online workspaces and that have full customer support teams. Research potential service providers by looking for customer reviews on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and other social media streams. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints filed against them.

    Q. Is there an affordable way to improve my search engine rankings?

    A. Many SEO (search engine optimization) tactics - those site changes that get you listed higher on Google's search results pages, are easier to implement yourself than you might think.

    Especially vital for local businesses is to make sure your NAP (name, address and phone number) are correct and consistent across the web, because if Google gets confused it will downgrade your site and you will lose visibility and a corresponding drop in traffic.

    Another way to improve your rankings is to focus each page of your site on a specific keyword phrase so that the search engines will be clear of your page content.

    Q. Are there other cost-effective ways to promote my company online successfully?

    A. The internet is a great, and often free, place to promote every business type.

    Microsoft founder Bill Gates once said that "Content is king". This statement in a 1996 essay he wrote about the future of the internet means that supplying information - whether to inform or entertain - is the best way to promote your brand, products and company online.

    Get started right away by creating a company blog and posting top quality content which is of interest to your target customer. Post new articles to your blog on a regular basis. In addition to increasing your site traffic, it signals your authority to search engines which will then reward you with higher page rankings over time.

    Once your blog is published you can distribute and promote this material across the web and on free social media sites such as Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other sites.

    Marsha KellyAbout the Author:

    Marsha Kelly sold her first business for more than a million dollars. She has shared hard-won experiences as a successful serial entrepreneur on her Best4Businesses blog, where she also regularly posts business tips, ideas, and suggestions as well as product reviews for business readers. As a serial entrepreneur who has done “time” in corporate America, Marsha has learned what products and services work well in business today. You can learn from her experiences to build your business.

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