5 Steps to Leading a Successful Online Business

With its low barriers to entry, eCommerce can be a viable option for budding entrepreneurs looking for new opportunities in the recession. When I founded Blacksocks in 1999, I took something mundane – buying socks – and, by making it fun, turned it into a profitable business that now has 50,000 customers in 75 countries. But the original idea is only 20% of your endeavor – the rest is execution, execution, execution.

Here are five tips on launching, running and profiting online.

Find an idea you love.
Whether it’s ice cream, bean bags, or shirts with funny slogans, find a product or service you’re passionate about selling. I started my career as a marketing executive. One day, I was invited to dinner with Japanese business associates. The dinner was a great success, and afterwards we moved to a Japanese tea house where, following tradition, everyone removed their shoes. I looked down, and I had two different socks on – one with a hole in the big toe. I sat cross-legged for an entire evening, trying to hide my foot. I’m passionate about helping executives avoid such embarrassments by allowing them to buy fine-quality essentials in one convenient place online, and have them delivered to their doorstep. Because wouldn’t it be wonderful if your sock drawer could replenish itself?

Keep your Internet presence fresh.
The first version of Blacksocks’ website was a single shot of a washing machine. Customers entered their orders into a slot in the machine, which sent an e-mail directly into my inbox. As the Web has developed, our site has become increasingly sophisticated, with the most recent relaunch this April. We’ve positioned content more intuitively and enhanced visual communication to make for smoother and more enjoyable shopping for Blacksocks clients. Ask yourself, if I were a customer looking at my site, what would I want to be different?

Maintain a human connection with your customer.
No one likes to feel they’re buying products from  a machine. Remind your customers that there’s a human face to behind your online business. Humor helps. At Blacksocks, we’re lucky to have a funny story behind the origins of the brand, and no one can take the business of selling socks too seriously anyway – after all, they’re just socks. Incorporating humorous touches into your website’s content will make a virtual transaction feel  personal, enhancing the customer experience.

Experiment with social media.
Everyone knows that Facebook has now overtaken Google as the most popular U.S. website, but not everyone is sure how to turn social media into profit. Explore these new distribution channels and marketing concepts. Blacksocks has an active presence on Facebook;  Joe and Jane Blacksocks run Twitter accounts on the company’s behalf; and Blacksocks is the official sock sponsor of iweartyourshirt.com, run by two guys who serve as human billboards. We also strive to keep our customers engaged by inviting them to post comments on the Blacksocks site.

Invest in long-term success.
Many Web-preneurs give up after only a few months. Be realistic about your goals: it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll achieve financial success immediately, particularly if you’re one person on a shoestring budget. Most decisions, whether they’re for online businesses or brick-and-mortar ones, need to be made within a working time frame of two to five years at least. Think about where your website will be a decade from now. If you’re creating original content, timeless content, content that connects with customers, and you have researched the market your product is aimed at thoroughly, you have the tools you need to create a successful online enterprise.

Samy Liechti is managing director and founder of Blacksocks
(www.Blacksocks.com), an eCommerce site founded in 1999 with a single
purpose: to provide a streamlined, hassle-free solution to purchasing high
quality socks. Blacksocks is the inventor of the “sockscription,” which delivers
socks to subscribers (coined “sockscribers”) in three intervals throughout the