This post is going to seem a bit contrary to the advice most people give you. Whenever you start a new venture, you are advised to write a detailed business plan to get you where you want to go, and keep you on track. The trouble is (especially in the online world) most businesses don’t go according to plan. New technologies are coming out all the time that render previous ways of doing business obsolete. In order to succeed, you’ll need to remain flexible and be open to changing paths where necessary.
Instead, I recommend setting a clear vision of your company and where you would like to be six months from now, a year from now, two years from now etc. However keep the paths that get you closer to your vision open. Be on the lookout for new ideas that can get you to where you want to go faster.
When I first had the idea to teach Chinese online, I had no idea what a podcast was, leave alone that it would form the hub of my business model. Later, mobile apps became a big part of my business strategy. In both cases, I was able to get on board fairly early, which played a big part in my success. Had I been a few years late to get on board, the results might have told a very different story.
Keep tabs on your biggest customers (especially early on). Find out what they like about your business, and what they think can be improved. Strive to keep them happy. Set up a Google alert on your company name, to find out what others are saying about you or your company. Many times, such alerts have led me into forums that were talking about me that provided extremely valuable insight. Such feedback was then used to tweak the system, keep improving and take me closer to the goals I had set for the business.
If you have written a business plan already, make sure it’s a living, breathing document that can be altered and changed where necessary.