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Starting your own online business is an attractive idea for many aspiring entrepreneurs. After all, the ideal scenario is that you can run your business from anywhere in the world, with minimal running costs, and access to a global audience.
Of course, these things are rarely as straightforward as you might hope, and the time, energy, and resources required to establish a new brand can be substantial. You need to choose a suitable niche, understand your audience, scope out the competition, and then create an attractive, functional website. And all this comes before you’ve even begun to attract a following, let alone make any sales.
On the other hand, you could take on an existing website, and build your brand from there. Whether you choose to turn around a struggling business, or purchase a successful online store and help it to grow further, this strategy is a helpful alternative for anyone who feels underprepared to simply start from scratch.
Even so, there are two sides to every coin, and while there are many benefits to taking on an established website, there are also potential drawbacks. So to help you reach a decision, here are some of the primary advantages and disadvantages to skipping ahead and building your brand on a pre-existing business.
Launching a startup requires capital. Yet, while this sum can be kept relatively low, depending on how you structure your initial marketing and content delivery, you will always be gambling that capital on the success of your business.
However, the same applies to some extent when purchasing a business. Depending on the prior success of your chosen website, the initial costs could be even higher than those of simply launching your own site. And of course, there is still the risk that your investment could be lost if things do not work out.
The difference with making a purchase of this nature is that you can make a more informed decision about the potential value of your investment. Looking at the website’s history, and conducting your own research into its potential for growth can give you a comprehensive insight into the worth of an online store at any point in time. Don’t be afraid to ask the owner these questions if you cannot access the information you require.
If you are purchasing an ecommerce store via a verified website marketplace, you can even investigate past transactions involving that website, as well as prices paid for stores with a similar profile. This can help you to avoid paying over the odds for a website, and get a sense of the earning potential of a struggling business should you choose to take it on.
One of the strongest arguments for purchasing a website is that it should come with a body of content already in place. This can save you a huge amount of time and effort in the early days, as your website will already have useful information for visitors to browse when they find your site.
This content can even help to boost your search engine rankings, not only through the age of the site itself, but by providing a selection of relevant, engaging content which will help guide people to your site, or even to a specific section of your online store.
However, it is vital to perform a content audit when taking on a website. Not only do you need to know the age, subject, and performance of existing content, but you will also need to verify that it will have a positive impact on your SEO.
This means checking it uses the correct keywords for your niche, and that it is accurate, timely, and original. Plagiarism can be extremely damaging not only to your rankings, but to your brand’s reputation, so be certain to vet all existing content thoroughly when taking over a website. Tools like Small SEO’s Plagiarism Checker can help you with this.
Naturally, the problem then becomes that additional time is expended checking through old content, instead of creating new. However, this can still be a worthy investment, providing the bulk of that content is usable. Furthermore, some items may be suitable for reworking into other forms, giving you the additional benefit of a range of free, easy-to-implement content ideas.
Once again, you should investigate the website before making an offer, so you have a firm sense of the work required to make it profitable.
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When choosing whether to purchase a website, you will also want to investigate whether it has any additional accounts connected with it, such as social media pages, or storefronts on global marketplaces.
Not only does this help you to determine how much work will go into maintaining the business’ current level of activity, but it can also give you an insight into its reputation. This, in turn, will inform your marketing decisions during the transition into your ownership.
For example, a successful, popular business with good reviews and a loyal following may expect things to stay largely the same when you take control of the website. However, if you choose to take on a website with a bad reputation, more work may be required to win the trust of your followers, and reverse any negative social proof.
Fortunately, you can make a big impact in this area in a relatively short amount of time by being as vocal as possible about the change of ownership. Seek feedback, and interact honestly with your audience. This will reinforce that you have their interests at heart, and that you seek to change the business for the better. The news may even spark the return of former customers, keen to find out how things have changed.
Building your audience and steady revenue streams can be tough when you are new to the world of ecommerce. However, with an established website you can grow your business from the traffic and sources of revenue already in place.
The important thing to remember is that you need to be sure that the sources of traffic and revenue are in line with your business aspirations. Look into the website’s history to ascertain whether the traffic is steady, or has been artificially inflated by a recent spike. You should also research the variety of demographics that comprise the existing audience.
Depending on your plans for the business and any changes to its practices, you may find that you are no longer catering to the same audience. This again will likely mean extra work reaching out to potential consumers in a manner that suits their needs, and your business model.
If you have never run an ecommerce store before, purchasing an existing business could be a good way to get a sense of how things work, and build upon a successful model, rather than having to start from scratch with no experience.
However, the flipside to this is that without experience, you could find that an established online store comes with greater demands from its customers. While much of the initial legwork has already been done for you, to ensure the continued success of the brand, you will need to be able to meet consumer expectations. Too many changes too soon could risk costing you a proportion of your audience.
Meanwhile, the more established and recognized the brand that you purchase, the harder it can be to leave your own stamp upon it. This can be fine if you are happy to build upon an idea that was not your own. However, if you seek to create something completely original, you may find that attempting to do so via an existing business holds you back.
Part of the problem may be that your ideas simply don’t gel with the existing business model, or established policies. This could then either mean extra work adjusting these to suit your aspirations, or having to compromise on your vision.
Alternatively, you might find that your fresh point of view, and commitment to your concepts for the business are just what’s needed to breathe new life into an existing brand. As ever, the key is to conduct careful research before making your purchase, so you know what to expect, and where improvements could be made.
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Whether you set up your own business, or decide to invest in a website that is already in existence, you should work to ensure your own aspirations are not lost along the way. It is your business, after all, so don’t be afraid to shake things up, and make your mark on it.
There are pros and cons to both choices, but if you have any uncertainties, you may be safer investing in a business that has already make it through the early stages of its life. Keep the guidance above in mind, and remember that it is only through continuous testing and improvement that any online business can be sustained.
Nevertheless, if you are prepared to give a pre-owned business the time and attention it needs to thrive, you can not only make it your own, but leave a mark on the industry that will boost your reputation, and your confidence for future endeavors.
Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on ecommerce and how writers can hone their craft. She is passionate about using her experience to help other businesses grow their online brands through great content.