How to start an online business in South Africa 

So you’re ready to learn how to start your very own online business? FANTASTIC! This is one of the best ways to secure your future in a capitalist society. You can leverage your practical skills or in-depth knowledge to create an online business from scratch. If you’re a business owner, taking your business online can drive your sales through the roof of your wildest dreams. Please don’t underestimate what’s possible here, with time and effort you can build a powerful online business that suits your needs and lifestyle.

In this blog post, you will learn

  • what product-market fit is, 
  • how to understand your customer really well 
  • how to communicate with your customer effectively
  • Branding Vs Advertising 

This will give you a key strategy you need to start and grow your online business in South Africa and anywhere else in the world. 

Let’s discuss, step by step, the business strategy you can use to make this happen. 

How to sell online 

Businesses make sales, they sell stuff. The same principle applies to online businesses. You can either sell products or services that you make yourself or you can venture into affiliate marketing and sell other people’s products and services. Affiliate marketing is very profitable and you should consider making affiliate marketing a part of your business strategy. Affiliate marketing can also be a good source of additional revenue for current small business owners. 

Affiliate marketing infographic


You can sell products online through channels like your website or your social media. This applies whether you’d like to affiliate market your products or sell your own. You can even run and manage a store entirely on Instagram or Whatsapp, which is extremely cost-effective for small businesses during the very early stages. 

Finding or making a product and offering a service online is not hard at all. Anybody can do it. The hard part is getting customers to buy what you’re selling. 

It doesn’t matter what E-commerce platform you use, how convenient your Paygate is, how sleek your website is, or how many features your product has if:

  • The product-market fit is bad
  • You don’t understand your customer 
  • You can’t communicate with your customer effectively
  • Your branding and advertising is poor 

Step 1 – Product-market fit for your online business

From: Medium

At this stage, you’re probably trying to figure out what you want to sell. Selling online successfully requires a good product-market fit. Your job is to make sure you are selling the right product to the right market (the right people) through the right channels. You have the unrestrained freedom to pick and sell any product or service you can find, or produce. However, you must align your product to the needs of your customer, to what the customer expects from the product, and to what you can reasonably deliver as a business.

You’ll need a bit of psychology and some sales basics to find a good product-market fit and to sell to your target customers online.  

The basics of selling anything (seriously, anything!): 

  • People buy things they find valuable. How does your customer define or see value? 
  • Does your product solve a problem for your target customer? Is your target customer aware of this problem?
  • Is there a market for your product? Are people already buying similar offerings? It’s a good sign if a profitable market already exists or is emerging. 
  • Do you know how to find your target customer online? (Great Content, SEO, Paid Ads, Influencer Marketing, Community Building and Engagement, Referrals). 
  • People buy things to consume, to feel good, to be entertained, and to educate themselves. 
  • Generally, people hate to be sold too, but they love to buy. 
  • Your message and product need to speak to both a person’s emotions and needs in order to sell to them. 

These basic principles are not a checklist. It’s how humans are wired. These principles are meant to highlight one single thing; in order to sell anything successfully, you need to understand your customer really well. 

Step 2 – Understand your customer really well.

This is the exciting part! 

This is the one business principle that separates businesses that succeed and businesses that fail. 

Your customers will pay for products they find valuable. It’s your job to deeply understand your customer’s needs, wants, ambitions and fears. You should be obsessed with finding ways to improve the lives of your customers. 

This means you need to do customer research. 

  • Talk to your potential customers about what they want and need 
  • Study and analyze how your competitors meet your target customer’s needs
  • Conduct desktop research on your industry and your role in it

Study your ideal or potential customers online! 

  • What do they like to buy? (Look at the online stores or businesses do they follow, which pages do they leave comments on, what products and stores do they post and repost, what competitions do they enter)
  • What are their buying habits and behaviors? (Can you get this info from their posts, analytics, or surveys)
  • Where do they spend their time online?
  • What are their favorite social channels? (Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) 
  • What do they chat about in their social groups? 
  • What do they dislike?

If you understand your customer you will be able to find and produce products they enjoy and buy. You’ll also be able to find your customers online and maybe… stalk them just a little bit. Now that you understand your customers really well and you’ve found an excellent product or service with a great product-market fit you need to communicate your offer to your customers. 

Step 3 – Communicate your offer to your customer effectively 

Jordan shoe advert
From: Pinterest

Communicating with your customers effectively will drive the success of your business. 

You need to communicate your offer to your customers. 

Since you’re selling online you need to put a lot of effort into building trust with your potential customers. This applies whether you’re making use of outbound or inbound marketing. 

You will build trust with your online customer through every touchpoint your customer has with your business. This includes your website, social media accounts, your ads, email newsletter, customer service channels, and your blog, etc.  

First impressions matter. Your potential customer is not very motivated or compelled to take note of your product or offer if they’ve never heard of you before. There are millions of people trying to sell stuff to them. They have lots of DMs, notifications, and ads competing for their attention. 

They are programmed to filter out anything that looks

  • low quality,
  • fake,
  • spammy,
  • amateurish 
  • and underwhelming. 

Customer requirements

You need to engage your customer effectively at every opportunity. 

This means you must: 

  • Produce high-quality and engaging content (product pictures, videos, blog posts, social media posts, and ads). 
  • Your offer must be clear and compelling. Your customer needs to understand your offer and how it can help them with ease. You must use great copywriting techniques to create a compelling offer. 
  • Your customer needs to have access to enough relevant information about you, your business, and your product to make a purchase decision. This is key to building trust online (They want to know where you are based, how much the product or service is, your return policy details, delivery details, how to contact you, your ‘about us’ section, reviews, etc). 
  • Understand your customer’s journey (Your customer will interact with a number of your pages, posts, channels, and touchpoints over a period of time before they make a purchase. Map this journey out! Can you identify key points in that journey? Can you spot any opportunities in that journey? What information do they need at which points to move down your sales funnel?).
  • Most people won’t buy from you the very first time they see your product or learn about your service. You must have a plan to consistently engage and compel the segment of your online audience that seems to lurk or just view your content. How will you convert them profitably? 
  • Create compelling Calls to Action. 

Step 4 – Understand Branding Vs Advertising 

Initially, the 2 most important forms of communication you will be engaged in are Branding and Advertising  (Advertising is a form of Marketing). 

Branding vs Marketing infographic


Marketing quote

From: Inc.Africa

Branding is how you communicate your value to your market. What does your customer see in their minds’ eyes when they think of you or your brand? What concepts or values do they associate with your brand? Do they think of specific colors or a specific feeling? 

What do you do to reinforce this image? Do you write blogs about specific topics, create videos discussing specific themes, or take pictures of specific subjects that reinforce this image? 

Advertising is promoting your product, service, company, or yourself. It’s how you spread awareness. Online, you can run paid ads through platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or TikTok. You can also make use of ad networks like Google Ads for your promotions. Remember that every interaction that your customer has with your brand also counts as a form of advertising (This is why making great content is important). 

A thriving and successful brand is co-created with its customers and community. Learn about what attracts your customers to your brand and then deliver more of what your customers want and pay for. 

Thanks for reading! We hope you found this article helpful and informative. You know content is super important for growing your online business so learn the basics of content marketing and how to use content on your website to make money now!

Content Marketing

Let us know what you enjoyed most in this article in the comments section below.

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