Technology is constantly reshaping how we live and work. Traditional office spaces, once considered the heart of professional life, are becoming less appealing for small businesses and startups who want to stay nimble on their feet.
With tools like productivity software, video conferencing, and e-commerce platforms reaching a dime a dozen levels or popularity, operating a business virtually not only possible, but preferable for both entrepreneurs and their customers.
With more people choosing to work from their homes or even across continents than ever before, finding the best talent for your growing business may require you to think outside the box of your current zip code.
The truth is that the boundaries of the office have been extended, and with that, the entire concept of business is being reimagined.
Operating a business virtually eliminates the headaches of opening a traditional brick and mortar business, like renting office space and establishing a local customer base, giving you a financial edge over your competitors.
In this article, we will dig into the benefits of starting a virtual business, and provide a simple step-by-step guide that you can follow to kick off your own online adventure.
What is a Virtual Business?
A virtual business is a business that operates primarily or entirely online. Its employees, if any, work remotely, and it offers products or services that can be delivered digitally or shipped directly to the customer.
Virtual businesses use technology to eliminate the need for a physical location, making them easier to start and affordable to run than a traditional brick and mortar business.
Virtual businesses come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from simple home-based businesses to large scale eCommerce stores and digital service providers.
What are the benefits of starting a virtual business?
Operating a business virtually comes with several distinct advantages including:
Lower Startup Costs
Starting your business virtually greatly reduces your overhead costs. There’s no need for a physical storefront, which also means no rent, no utility bills, and fewer maintenance costs. This financial advantage can often allow online businesses to offer competitive pricing and invest more in other aspects of the business, such as marketing or product development.
Offering your products and services virtually allows you to access a wider audience. While physical businesses rely on sales from local customers, an virtual business can sell its goods to anyone in the world.
Stay Open 24/7
Unlike traditional businesses, which often have specific operating hours, virtual businesses are always open. This means that your customers can make purchases at any time, offering added convenience and increasing potential sales opportunities.
Virtual businesses can quickly adapt to changing circumstances, scaling up or down as required.
This flexibility also extends to staffing, with the potential to use remote workers, freelancers, or contractors, eliminating the overhead costs and commitments related to hiring full-time employees.
Better Customer Data
By operating entirely online, virtual businesses can collect customer data more efficiently, enabling them to personalize their online marketing efforts and enhance their product offerings based on consumer behavior and preferences. This ability to quickly and easily adapt to customer needs can give online businesses a significant competitive edge.
Starting a virtual business is typically a lower risk venture when compared to a starting traditional brick-and-mortar business, primarily due to lower initial and ongoing costs.
Without the need for a physical office, the overhead related to rent, utilities, insurance, and maintenance is greatly reduced. In many cases, virtual businesses can be run using the most basic computers and software, eliminating the need for any significant capital investment.
This reduced financial burden can make a business more resilient to downturns or slow initial growth, providing more time to achieve profitability.
It is important to note that while virtual businesses are typically less risky to start, running one does bring its own challenges, including reliance on technology, cybersecurity concerns, and the difficulties of managing a remote workforce. It’s crucial to have strategies in place to address these potential issues.
What are the Steps to Start a Virtual Business?
Just like starting any other type of business, there are a set of steps everyone considering starting a virtual business should take to ensure their long term success.
Step 1: Do your research
Conducting thorough market research will give you valuable insights into your competition, target audience, and industry trends. This knowledge is an important step in positioning your virtual business effectively in the market.
Of course, not everyone looking to start a business has access to a market research firm. However, asking your friends and family or even conducting a poll on a social platform can help you put feelers out for the viability of your business idea.
Step 2: Create a Comprehensive Business Plan
A business plan is a roadmap for your business that outlines your goals and details how you plan to achieve them.
For a virtual business, this plan should include an online marketing strategy, an operational structure suitable for remote work, and a detailed financial projection.
Step 3: Register Your Business
After fine-tuning your business plan, the next step is to legally register your business. This process varies depending on your state and the nature of your business, but in most cases, the steps are very simple. Generally you can find all the information you’ll ever need on your Secretary of State’s website.
If you are unsure of which entity type to choose (LLC, corporation, non-profit, etc.), talk to your accountant. There are both legal and financial implications that may make one entity better for your business than another.
Step 4: Get the necessary permits and licenses
A business license is a permit issued by a government agency that allows individuals or companies to conduct business within the government’s geographic jurisdiction. It is a legal authorization to operate a business in a city, county, or state.
Getting a business license often involves filling out specific paperwork and paying a fee. Some business licenses also require inspections or other checks before they can be granted.
It’s important to note that there are different types of business licenses, depending on the nature of the business. For example, a restaurant may need a food service license, a liquor license if they plan to serve alcohol, and possibly a health department permit.
Failure to obtain the necessary business licenses can result in fines or even being shut down, so it’s crucial to research the legal requirements in your city, county, and state when starting a business.
Step 5: Create Your Online Presence
The technology you use will form the backbone of your virtual business. This includes things like your website, eCommerce platform, productivity software, and any tech you will need to support your operations.
Your website will be the ‘virtual premises’ of your business. For this reason, it’s essential to create a professional, user-friendly website. Additionally, social media platforms can be effectively used to engage with your audience and promote your products or services.
If you plan on hiring employees, you should also look into productivity apps that can help your employees collaborate while working remotely.
Last, if your business has no central headquarters, it is generally a good idea to get a virtual business address. This will ensure that you protect your personal privacy as your business address will likely be posted publicly.
Step 5: Hire Your Virtual Team (optional)
To run your virtual business, you’ll likely need to build a team. Depending on the nature of your business, this could include virtual assistants, marketers, customer service representatives, and more.
Building a successful remote team will require careful planning, in order to ensure that the team is cohesive, skilled, and capable of working effectively despite the distance.
To start, clearly define the roles and responsibilities you need to fill. This clarity will help you target your recruitment and better communicate with potential candidates about what the position entails.
Once roles are defined, choose platforms to post your job listings. Numerous online job boards and websites cater specifically to remote work like Upwork. LinkedIn is another valuable resource for reaching a broad pool of potential candidates.
The selection process for remote workers should include considerations unique to remote work. Apart from assessing candidates’ skills and experience for the role, evaluate their ability to work independently, communicate effectively, manage their time, and handle the technical demands of remote work.
Interviews for remote positions are usually conducted via video calls. Use this opportunity to gauge the applicant’s comfort with the technology and their ability to communicate in a virtual environment. It’s also important to discuss expectations regarding working hours, particularly if you’ll be working across different time zones.
After hiring, effective onboarding is critical. Make sure your team members have the necessary tools and understand their tasks. Regular check-ins, feedback sessions, and team-building activities can help cultivate a strong team culture, even when everyone is working remotely. While hiring a remote team can be a challenging process, when done correctly, it allows businesses to tap into a global talent pool and can result in high levels of productivity and job satisfaction.
Implement a Marketing Strategy
Effective marketing is crucial to attracting customers online. However, creating and implementing an effective marketing strategy for a virtual business can be quite involved.
First, you should conduct some market research. It’s important to identify the needs, and wants of your potential customers so that you can craft your marketing strategy accordingly.
Once the target market is clearly defined, the next step is setting specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. These goals might be related to increasing brand awareness, attracting more leads, improving conversion rates, or increasing customer loyalty, among others.
Once the marketing strategy is created, it should be implemented consistently and carefully. Regular monitoring and analysis is crucial to understanding what’s working and what’s not.
And remember, your marketing strategy should be flexible and open to changes. Market trends, customer preferences, and competition are always evolving, and a successful marketing strategy must be able to adapt to these changes.
Establishing Customer Service Channels
Customer service is key to retaining clients and enhancing your brand reputation. It’s crucial to identify where your customers are most likely to reach out for support, whether that’s via email, social media, phone, live chat on the website, or through a helpdesk system.
Once these key channels have been identified, it’s time to establish a presence on them. Email support is pretty typical for virtual businesses, allowing customers to send in their queries or concerns directly at any time. It’s a good idea to use a professionally branded email address to instill trust and confidence in your customers.
If your customer demographic is active on social media, it can be a good idea to offer support through these platforms as well. This could involve monitoring and responding to comments and direct messages on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And the best part is, these channels are free to operate.
Starting a virtual business requires careful planning and strategic thinking. Incorporating a virtual address into your business plan not only enhances your professional image but also provides flexibility and security for your operations. While the journey may be challenging, the reward of successfully establishing your virtual venture will make the effort worthwhile.