For a while now, you have been toying with an idea. You are tempted to develop it into an online business. Everybody seems to be doing it. Why can’t you too? After all, what have you got to lose? Unlike a brick and mortar business, you don’t need to invest a lot and can start small. Yet, in your heart of hearts, you know you might never take the plunge.
Would you be more daring if you knew how an idea could snowball into a profitable online business? If those already doing it shared their tricks of the trade?
Phoebe Bhattarai, founder of Organic Originals which produces natural beauty products, says you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help, should you feel the need for it. When Bhattarai launched her company in 2019, she confesses she took on too much and quickly got overwhelmed.
“It’s not unusual for you to try and do everything yourself when you start an online business. But there are so many aspects to it that you won’t be able to manage alone,” she says.
Bhattarai says she would have given up had some of her friends not pitched in to help—one of them, Ayush Pant, is currently a partner in the company. Today, Organic Originals is a four-member team: two work in product manufacture, one looks after the company’s social media, and there’s a designated person for delivery. This has made work a whole lot easier and efficient.
Now, Bhattarai can focus on expanding her clientele.
“Initially, there were some misunderstandings with some of our clients. I realized it was largely because, without direct contact, we weren’t able to communicate with them properly,” she says.
Delays are also sometimes inevitable as it’s difficult to procure ingredients needed to make a product. There are issues with the packaging system as well since Organic Originals outsources the bottles and boxes final products come in.
“What’s imperative is you are able to iron out these glitches by communicating with your clients and suppliers,” says Bhattarai.
Customer satisfaction the top priority
Darpan Neupane, founder of the online bookstore Bookmandu, says online businesses can thrive only if your customers believe you can give them good service. Timely delivery is one key indicator of good service.
While delivery within Kathmandu isn’t a problem, Neupane laments poor postal services often hamper their business outside the valley. Lack of payment options mean people opt for cash on delivery, which isn’t always feasible when you offer nationwide services.
To counter this problem, Bookmandu is working on its own website as well as an Android app with order tracking system. Neupane believes this will increase the credibility of his company and people will be willing to make online payments while placing orders.
Customer satisfaction seems to be a priority among many online business operators. A small market and tough competition make it immensely difficult for online businesses to flourish. Much depends on word of mouth and for that, it’s important that every customer is happy.
This is why Tapashya Dhakal, owner of The Brand Goodies that makes customized gift boxes according to your needs and budget, likes to play it safe and only collaborates with companies providing top-notch quality items.
“That’s the reason why we currently have limited options. We want to ensure that you are getting your money’s worth,” she says.
Rupesh Kumar Jha, MD, Groomin, a designer mask company, agrees that a lot of attention needs to go into maintaining the quality of your products and services to gain customers’ trust. You also have to be willing to cater to their changing demands.
“There will be problems. Business is hard work. But you have to devise clever solutions and work your way through the problems,” says Jha. Groomin was launched during the nationwide lockdown in May 2020, and Jha says business has been good despite the fact that it’s currently not possible to promote Covid-19-related items on Facebook and Instagram.
It’s fairly easy to start an online business in the age of Instagram. You have a product or service to offer? Simply upload some photos and get the word out there. The allure of shopping online has also increased due to the pandemic that has most of us trying to minimize contact. Also, online shopping is convenient, and who doesn’t love getting what they want with minimal effort?
Be ready to sweat it out
But if your business is to gain a foothold in the market, you have to be ready to put in some serious work, says Lasata Bajracharya. She, along with Sayuj Shrestha, runs Kharayo, maker of phone cases and accessories.
“There are many opportunities in online business, especially in Nepal where it’s just starting to gain momentum. But how well your business does depend on the effort you put in and the value your company adds in people’s lives,” she says.
There are multiple pages on social media for anything you could possibly want. From food, clothes, and household items to books, beauty products and accessories, you want something, rest assured it’s available online. So, if you are an online business, how do you stay on top of the game?
Animal rights activist Anish Tuladhar, co-founder of Sarabakesvegan, which makes customized vegan cakes, says it’s important to be clear about what you are trying to accomplish while launching an online business. If you are doing it to promote a cause—as are Tuladhar and his business partner, Saraswati Rashmi Shakya—you will have a certain approach. If profit is your goal, then you will have to be rigorous about promoting and marketing your products or services.
“Either way, you will have to put in a lot of effort to develop your brand,” he says.
Bajracharya vouches for this too. She spends a lot of time on social media trying to interact with and engage her customers and thus give her brand the visibility it needs even when Kharayo has no new products to promote.
“I noticed that if there was no activity on the company social media page for a few days, we often lost a few followers,” she says, adding it’s crucial to hold on to your customers’ attention while running an online business.
Buying online, and paying for it
There are many other challenges an online business operator faces. Every day brings a new set of problems. A major issue in Nepal is definitely payment-related, as the concept of online transactions hasn’t fully set in. Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of paying for something before receiving it while others don’t want to share bank-card details.
Dhakal mentions that this limits a brands’ customer base and hampers its international prospects. She feels the government should devise ways to make online payments easy, accessible, and secure. This, she says, could facilitate import/export and, in turn, boost the economy.
She further adds that the government should also look into easing the registration process of online businesses and making clear regulations regarding the same.
Another issue is that people still aren’t used to online shopping. Many prefer to see and hold something before deciding whether to buy it. Even Dhakal who runs an online business says she isn’t sold on the idea of shopping for clothes over the internet. She would rather try on a piece of clothing than just see its specifications before making a purchase.
“Here, I feel, it boils down to the quality of your service. People are more likely to give you a chance if you can provide satisfaction guarantees or have an exchange or money-back policy,” says Bajracharya.
The overhead cost is low, you have the freedom to work on your own terms, and you can experiment and take risks without fearing harsh repercussions while running an online business. The pros definitely outweigh the cons, agree online business owners APEX spoke to. Success isn’t guaranteed but you won’t incur huge financial losses either.
However, Bhattarai recommends you get an office space so that work isn’t on your mind 24/7. You can get up, have a nice breakfast, and go to work. When you come back home, you can relax and recharge. That way, she says, you ensure a work-life balance that’s necessary for a healthy, ideating, creative, and problem-solving mind.
“You don’t want to be surrounded by boxes and piles of stuff from the moment you wake up or be thinking about work all the time. So, I feel, a separate workspace is a must. But this is a personal choice. You do what works for you,” she concludes.