Starting an online store can be an exciting, frightening, and liberating experience all rolled into one. With endless opportunities limited only by your imagination, being a business owner is truly one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer. If you’re thinking of starting an online store, here are five easy steps to follow to ensure you’re covered legally, financially, and practically.
- Get a Web Designer/Domain Name
The first thing you need to do is pick a domain name for your website and get it registered. You’ll pay a monthly or yearly website hosting fee, which allows your site to be hosted on another company’s servers. The company will take care of any security measures and host your website for as long as you’re subscribed.
You can change hosts if you’re unhappy with the service or cost of your current provider. Domain names and hosting fees will vary among providers; but generally, a domain name registration shouldn’t cost too much, and hosting should only be a few dollars per month.
Once you’ve registered a domain name, you need someone to design your website. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, why can’t I just use Wix or Weebly for that and save the cost?” Before you try the DIY site builders, consider the fact that you are not a web designer.
This means you won’t know the ins and outs of a website, and no matter how great you think your DIY site may look, it can never compare to the work of someone who’s spent years perfecting the craft. An amazing website can mean the difference between attracting customers and turning them away, make no mistake! Take the leap and make the right investment into your site for maximum returns.
- Take Care of Legal Paperwork/Register Your Name
You’ll want to be sure you register your business name with local and state agencies for taxation purposes. Don’t try to avoid this step; the IRS will find out whether or not you’re doing business legally; and take action if it turns out you’re operating an illegal business.
You’ll want to file for an LLC, Inc., or other business structure; so long as it’s included in your name and on file with the state you’re operating in. Business structures help protect those working for or operating the business from personal liability in the event of a lawsuit, accident, or other legal ramifications.
It’s best to have all of your legal paperwork in place before you even begin producing anything or operating as a business. Always report your earnings accurately and on time. Check with your state’s regulations to see if you need to register for sales tax.
- Perform Market Research
This should be one of the first things on your checklist when starting a business. Market research allows you to explore the market you’ll be operating in, discovering trends, best practices, and more information related to your industry and the kinds of customers you’ll be serving.
This understanding is crucial when forming a business plan, as you can’t exactly plan for something you’re not familiar with. Take the time to thoroughly perform your market research, and hire an expert in the field if you’re finding you don’t understand what you’re researching. It’s better to ask for help and not need it than to need it and never ask for it. Experts are there to help, and can assist you in forming a solid business plan to attract the right investors or other avenues of funding.
- Create a Marketing Campaign
Marketing is crucial for reaching your target audience and expanding to new customers. Creating a marketing plan early on in your business plan will help you create a solid foundation to work from later on. Your market research is crucial to forming an effective marketing plan, as without adequate research, you won’t know who your potential customers are.
Certain tools, like a POS system can help continue your marketing efforts after the business opens. With customer profiles, you’ll be able to track customer purchases and learn which products they prefer. This will help you create more focused marketing efforts with a greater turnaround.
Be sure to create a budget that allows for marketing expenses, so you have a better idea of what you’ll be spending each month. If you’re unfamiliar with budgets or finances, you can hire a financial advisor. You can compare the 5 best financial advisors in Los Angeles on the Careful Cents site.
- Acquire any Necessary Permits
If you’re producing a product for your online business, you’ll need a physical location to house your equipment; and possibly permits from local or state authorities. Keeping your business in compliance with local and state regulations ensures that production goes on without interruption-or penalties.
Be sure to check with the city and state authorities to see which permits you may need. It may turn out that you don’t actually need any permits, but it’s always better to be certain so as not to be evicted or penalized later on. Some states will have permit requirements listed on their websites in the business gateway, so be sure to check there as well.
Keeping your business in compliance is good practice, and hiring a designer to create your site is just smart business. Don’t take a chance on DIY sites or legal issues; make sure you’re hiring experts to help in any areas you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with so all of your requirements will be met. The last thing you want six months down the road is to be fined or penalized in another way for a missing document or permit. Good luck with your business, and remember that with the right mindset, the possibilities are endless!