Radio. Television. Computers. The Internet. Technological advances that transformed the way we communicate. Advances that have had an enormous impact on the way we do business. With each invention, our personal lives and businesses become more efficient, increasingly productive and reach a higher standard.
In the era of innovation and entrepreneurship, the Internet has been the ultimate catalyst. The concepts of four-hour workweeks and $100 startups have prompted people to pursue passion and freedom rather than a well-paying job. Promises of passive income and the good life are fed to us through social media and Google searches.
The “modern entrepreneurs” of today aren’t hindered by a lack of capital or a less-than-ideal location. Traditional barriers of entry into an industry no longer exist. Global markets are easily tapped into and remote offices are set up in unlikely locations – beaches, living rooms, coffee shops. With an online business, parents have the flexibility to stay at home with a sick child. Sweatpants can replace suits and dresses. Meetings can be conducted from anywhere at any time. It’s a nobody-knows, nobody-cares world and everybody wants to live there.
“You can start an online shop for just the cost of a website with an online store which is about $40 a month,” says Kristin Guy, owner of A Little Confetti, an online tableware and party decor shop, and A Little Campout, a kids’ sleepover tent rentals company. “While technology may make it easy to get started, there’s still a tremendous amount of time and effort that goes into getting a business off the ground.”
“There’s tons of information out there on how to run an online business and it can get overwhelming. The saying ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’ couldn’t be truer when it comes to online business, but I’ve learned that doing what works best for you is the only way to go,” says Jenny Paul, business coach and blogger at live long + hustle. “If you try to implement every rule handed down by the Internet gurus, you’ll paralyze yourself into inaction.”
It’s not for the faint of heart. Anyone who’s mastered the art of running an online business has overcome a fair share of challenges and those who tried and failed have trickled off into the abyss. The new generation of strong-willed, tech-savvy entrepreneurs coming onto the scene are focused on customer experience, technology and marketing, usually prioritizing global market expansion.
Without the need for a brick-and-mortar office or shop, capital is not an issue. When you take away the cost of rent, taxes, payroll and utilities, you tear down the barrier to entry brick by brick. A smaller upfront investment means lower risk.
“It takes very little to start up in the coaching industry online. All you really need is a way to collect payment, like Stripe or PayPal,” says Paul. “With the power of social media, you don’t even need a website. You can build a loyal fan base on social media, set up a free account with an email provider to collect the email addresses of your clients and you’re off! That said, it takes time and effort, so although the capital investment is very low, you’ll need to budget time and energy to get your business off the ground.”
For those who do need capital, crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter have made it accessible. The online funding platform for creative projects went live in April 2009 and it too has completely changed the way small projects and businesses get off the ground by appealing directly to an intended customer base for initial startup funds. Online marketplaces like Upwork and PeoplePerHour offer freelance services on demand and start at just five bucks a pop. Services range from copywriting to link building to logo design.
“Online businesses like Fiverr make it quick and easy to get a logo, but I would spend more money and time on those things if I had to start over,” says Guy. “This is an example of how technology can take the human factor out of things. Your logo should be a representation of you and your business, but it’s very difficult for that to come through when the person doing the logo has never seen or spoken with you.”
Nonetheless, these cloud-based talent pools make life easier for buyers who do not have the time, energy or skill to do it themselves.
“The Internet has made it possible for anyone with Wi-Fi and a smartphone to start up a business. The beautiful thing about that is with all of the choices consumers have, they tend to only do business with the brands they trust,” says Paul. “This has forced brands to become more transparent, which we all appreciate.”
The prominence of social media has made brand transparency a critical part of every business’ marketing plan. Consumers want to see that their needs are put above those of a company. They want authenticity and engagement. According to Forbes, 62 per cent of millennials say that if a brand engages with them, they are more likely to become loyal customers. It’s that simple.
“Social media has transformed the way I do business,” says Paul. “I know it gets a bad rap, but it has expanded my reach. It’s so easy to connect with people who I wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.”
“Instagram has been the major platform driving my sales and rentals. It allows me to show what I have to offer and connect with potential clients,” says Guy. “Being able to reach outside of my own social circle in the first few months of starting up my business brought traffic quicker than I expected.”
Given the sheer number of social media users and online consumers, it’s little wonder. According to a survey by Comscore, consumers now purchase 51 per cent of their goods and services online, up from 47 per cent just five years ago.
In the e-commerce retail trade space, Canadians are progressively embracing the world of online purchasing. In 2018, online sales amounted to almost $1.6 billion and that number is expected to rapidly increase in the not-so-distant future. With more secure payment methods available to consumers, businesses are building trust and confidence.
“My ultimate goal is to expand into a brick-and-mortar location,” says Guy. “I would like my products to be available to those who don’t shop online and would like to see a product before they buy it.
“So far, my customer base is local. That was my intention when I first started my business – I wanted to serve Calgary. Of course, my dreams have evolved, and I aspire to grow nationally.”
While the Internet has opened the doors for many an online entrepreneur, startups help to increase the level of economic activity which is necessary for growth. New ideas and products present a myriad of opportunities for everyone, jumpstarting the cycle of putting capital back into the market and increasing economic confidence.