Start an Online Business

To start an online business, there are several things that you need to be aware of. There are a variety of steps you need to take to ensure that your store is legal, visible, and profitable. Starting an online business is not difficult, and it does come with many benefits. You will have a great amount of control over what you sell, and you have the ability to work from anywhere in the world. Online business owners have access to a variety of platforms that will ensure that any storefront has the possibility to become successful.

How to Start an Online Business

Are you ready to start your own business but don't have a lot of money to do so, if you don't want to purchase a franchise or open up a retail store, you can consider starting an online business.

You can reach millions of customers with an online store without having to pay for expensive retail space. However, with any business, you will need a great product and a solid marketing plan.

Just like with starting a traditional business, planning your business is a must. You have to organize your funding, create your product, and ensure that it works. There are some unique aspects of an online business that all entrepreneurs must consider.

When you own a business online, you can: 

This makes it a great opportunity for a new entrepreneur who does not have a lot of capital.

Define Your Product or Service

With an online business, you have the potential to access millions of customers. However, this also comes with a lot of competition. No matter what product you want to sell, it is a guarantee that thousands more are also selling a similar idea online.

It is crucial that you define your product or service. To help you stand apart from everyone else, you need to find a niche. What can you make or create that is similar to what is already available, but is unique and more useful to a customer? Check out your competition to see if there are any gaps in what is already available. Take steps to fill those gaps with your product or service so that the customer is more likely to come to you rather than your competitor.

Register Your Business

Any online business will need to be registered within the state it is operated. You need to choose an official name for your business and submit all appropriate paperwork in order to make your business official. Before you register your business, it is best to have a business plan ready to go. Think about:

  • Cost of production
  • Cost of shipping
  • Taxes
  • Web hosting expenses
  • Business regulations in your state 

Register a Domain Name

The next step is to register a domain name for your online business. You need to use something catchy and easy to remember. It is best to choose a name that is closely related to the name of your business as possible.

Check out some different domain registration companies online and look at some of the names that you were interested in. This will help you decide whether or not they are available and if they are a good fit. If you find a name that works for your business, go ahead and register it.

Get a Web Hosting Service

You're also going to need web hosting for your website. You can get free web hosting online, but any serious online business owner will consider paying for hosting. There are fewer problems with paid hosting especially when your business begins to boom.

Looking at different web hosting services, you will notice that some are very structured that will allow you to choose from different templates for your website. Others allow you to do your own programming so that you can have increased flexibility.

Create a Stylish and Functional Website

Your online store should reflect the product that you're selling. No matter your personal style, it is crucial that you remain professional. You will not be able to earn the trust of a customer in person, so your website has to do the selling for you. The site should be engaging, easy to use, and user-friendly when they are ready to buy.

You may want to consider setting up an online portfolio. If you specialize in graphic design, you can provide sample images for your customers to view. If you are a freelance copywriter, you may want to consider having links to other pieces that you have written or have a selection of your past work that customers may view on your website.

It is not required that you design your website on your own. If you are not skilled in web design, it is probably best that you outsource this task.

When working on your web design, it is important that you focus on your ultimate goal, which is to provide a website that is simple and easy to use. The customer should not have to click more than two times to land on the page where they can purchase your product or service. The top of every page should have a link to your shopping cart if you are selling something.

All buttons on your website should be large and clear so that they are easily readable. Input boxes should be easy to enter information into. Less is more. There is no need to be extra wordy when you don't have to be. Always include your logo on the top of the page that links to the home page.

Get E-commerce Software

You also need to invest in some type of e-commerce software. You will need this so that your customer can view your product, enter their payment information, and buy your product. This software will safely store the customer’s personal information. Do not skimp on this. The type of e-commerce software that you choose will make a large difference in how secure the customer will feel about buying from you.

Set Up a Merchant Account

Whenever you sell a product online, you need a way for the customer to pay you. You will need to set up a merchant account so that you can accept credit and debit card payments.

You can use a service like PayPal that makes it possible to accept almost any form of credit or debit transaction. It also makes any dispute resolution easy to deal with.

Add Catchy Content to Your Site

You're adding content to your site, you need to focus on your expertise and display yourself professionally. You need to put your best foot forward for potential customers.

One thing that you need to avoid is using any overly complicated jargon that the layperson will not easily understand. If you work in a technical field, be sure to write descriptions in a way that are understandable for anyone who does not work in that industry.

Be Social

In today's day and age, it is crucial that your business be very social online. Keeping your name in the air is one of the best ways to be successful in online business.

Your business should have accounts across all social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Pinterest, Flickr, and Tumblr are also great platforms to consider joining.

Anytime you want to post on social media, make sure that you cross post across all your platforms. When you post, make sure that you include a link back to your main website. As well as links to any particular product you may be highlighting within that post.

Become an Affiliate Marketer

Another way to increase your profit with an online business is to become an affiliate marketer. Many companies and webmasters will utilize affiliate programs to increase their online sales. Most affiliate programs are free to join.

When you sign up for an affiliate program, you'll receive a specialized affiliate link with a unique identification number just for you. That link is used for marketing the product of that particular seller. Once the customer purchases an item through your affiliate link, you will receive an affiliate commission.

Start an Etsy Store

One example of a fairly easy online business is an Etsy store. An Etsy store follows a specific format that allows you to customize your store. All customers will buy your product through the Etsy interface. Etsy will take care of all the work required to get your site up and running. This makes it easier for you to focus on your product rather than the maintenance of a website. This can be a positive or negative depending on how much control you want over your website.

Etsy is a great option for any creative person who likes to make things by hand. Etsy sellers also resell vintage items, sell artwork, and things of that type. This platform provides a way for sellers to sell their handmade products to a large audience.

If your product is mass-produced, you will not be allowed to sell on Etsy. According to Etsy’s terms of service, while it is OK in some cases for sellers to partner with other businesses to create a product, any mass-produced items may not be sold.

Start an eBay store

Similar to Etsy, eBay provides you a pre-fabricated storefront that you can use to sell your products. You will have a little control over how your store looks. Again, this may be good or bad, depending on how much you want to customize your website.

With eBay stores, there are no rules with regard to mass production of products. So, if you choose to partner with a mass producer to make a product, it will be allowed to sell on eBay. However, eBay does prohibit certain items for sale. Make sure that you check eBay's terms of service with regard to selling items that could be prohibited.

Plan Your Online Business

With any business, you are going to need a solid plan. Your plan should include a market analysis, how do you plan to fund your product, and a SWOT analysis.

Write Your Business Plan

Before you launch your business, you need to write a business plan. Unless you were planning to get a bank loan for your business or from an investor, you only need to write a simplified business plan. A simplified business plan is quicker and easier to write, and boils down your entire plan to just the essentials.

Register Your Domain Name and Set Up Your Website

If you are setting up your own website outside of a platform like eBay or Etsy, you will need to choose your domain name as soon as possible. You will need to ensure that it is available and ready to use. After you have secured your domain, you will then begin setting up your website. You can outsource this process, or you can do it yourself with some easy to use templates.

If you need help learning more about starting an online business, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.