Four essential tips for building a business online

Group of young business people are working together in modern office. Creative people with laptop, tablet, smart phone, notebook. Successful hipster team in coworking. Freelancers.
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With the readymade marketing tool of social media, the prospect of starting an online business is becoming increasingly attractive. 

Carving your own corner of the internet can offer creative freedom, flexible hours and financial reward - but building a business online means navigating a difficult terrain of hashtags, algorithms and a hugely cluttered social media space. 

Luckily, there are people like Rachel Lewis to help aspiring businesswomen crack the code to social media success. Lewis is the CEO of She Owns It, one of the country's fastest-growing communities for women in business. 

She teamed up with Facebook to deliver a nationwide crash course in business expansion alongside a panel of badass businesswomen. On Monday, November 25, the programme fulfilled their pledge to train 1000 Kiwi women. 

I was lucky to attend one of the coveted sessions and have a chat with panellist Cathy Pope, founder of Cathy Pope Jewellery. With my head full of social media savvy (although my 590 followers would suggest otherwise), here are four tips I learnt to help kickstart your business on social media.

Rachel Lewis, CEO of She Owns It.
Rachel Lewis, CEO of She Owns It. Photo credit: Supplied

Be consistent

In the wise words of DJ Khaled, consistency is a major key. Maintaining an active and engaging presence on social media is essential to growing your platform. 

"I can't even remember the last time I didn't share something daily on social media," reveals panellist Fee Kirkpatrick, the owner of vintage clothing boutique, Shine On.

"To run my business efficiently and consistently, I need to be putting out daily messages for my business. If it's working and it's earning you money, it's necessary," Pope agrees.

An easy way to maintain a presence is by setting a social media schedule and sticking to it. In a cluttered space, regular uploads will ensure your posts are not left to stagnate in the doldrums of your followers' feeds.

Top tip: Make friends with Instagram's draft function. It's like that go-to mate who always has chocolates, tissues and Friends in a pinch - except, in this case, it's captions, tags and filters. Prepping a couple of uploads when you have the time will save stress later. 

Shine On founder Fee Kirkpatrick.
Shine On founder Fee Kirkpatrick. Photo credit: Supplied

Foster online connections

In a crowded marketplace of fake accounts, startups, and brands paying influencers big bucks, having a meaningful connection with your followers is integral to earning their trust.

Although it's hard enough fostering meaningful connections with people in real life, building a business through social media means your followers are your potential client base. You want to give them the same respect and service you would expect from an in-store business.

Put it this way: if you wanted to buy a top but wasn't sure if a store had your size, you would ask the shop assistant. If they ignored you, you would never go back. Hence, replying to comments, responding to direct messages, following back and generally being chatty with your followers are all ways to develop a relationship. 

Although social media makes a fantastic marketing tool, it's a "channel for your voice" first and foremost, says Pope. It allows you to communicate your values and connect with likeminded people, expanding your base of potential clients and customers. 

"You can funnel a message to your customers and keep a connection alive," Pope says.

Rachel Lewis and panellists Rochelle Sheldon, Cathy Pope and Fee Kirkpatrick.
Rachel Lewis and panellists Rochelle Sheldon, Cathy Pope and Fee Kirkpatrick. Photo credit: Supplied

Be personal

"Instagram is a curated collection of all the best things, not necessarily a reflection of what's going on in a business," Pope advises.

"Some of the best accounts are ones where people are gritty and real, not just pretty pictures. I try and do a bit of mixture."

While 'being personal' doesn't mean sharing your life story like a drunk divorcee at Cassette Nine, it does involve a more candid look at life behind the filters.

In other words, bring a personalised touch to that perfectly polished feed. Sharing values, anecdotes and behind-the-scenes tidbits help to foster a sense of authenticity - something that goes a long way to building a solid rapport.

Cathy Pope and Rochelle Sheldon.
Cathy Pope and Rochelle Sheldon. Photo credit: Supplied

Spend money to make money

We're all good at spending money - but the difficult part is picking where to put your hard-earned coin. As a small start-up, it's easy to adopt a frugal mindset and skimp on costs where you can 

"When I started out as I wasn't confident with social media, so for the first two years I hired agencies, even though it was a bit of a financial struggle," Pope says.

"As the business grew, I realised I didn't need them. I do everything myself now. When you're a small business starting out, those are really huge costs I think can be avoided - you should be trying to pay yourself."

One way to help bring in the moolah is ads - something all the panellists recommend investing in. Social media advertisements can help drive traffic to your pages, widening your reach and potential customer base. 

And never fear - building a business through social media does not mean you need to become a photographer overnight. Although Pope says she invests in professional photography for her website, she's realised it's not a necessity for social media.

"The pretty photos just look like ads," she says.

Four essential tips for building a business online
Photo credit: Supplied

As Lewis says, take advantage of the digital space. Social media provides incredible opportunities to build businesses and grow empires.

"Just do it, not everyone is brave enough. Fly that flags for girls of the future," she says. 

Yes, ma'am.