Today, I’m offering you an easy online business start-up guide. It’s not going to be a deep dive into the ins and outs of starting your online business. That takes more than a single article and is, essentially, the reason for this entire site.
What I’m giving you here is an easy 8-step look at the basics of getting your online business off the ground. These are the checklist items you need to deal with up front to position yourself for growth and, eventually, success as a profitable online entrepreneur.
As usual, I want to speak candidly, so please know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to business. There are general principles that apply to a broad range of circumstances and there are best practices that have been developed through experience. Some tips may be purely my own and others may be more universally recognized. Either way, your mileage may vary. You are unique and your business will be, as well.
With that in mind, here’s the easy 8-step guide to starting your own online business.
Step 1: Register Your Business Name
I can almost guarantee that the majority of people who get online and start a business don’t both with this step. Even once they are making a little money, they probably won’t bother with this step. Technically, if you are making below a certain level of income, you may not need to register your business. Please note, I am not giving you legal or tax advice. I am not a lawyer, an accountant, or a tax consultant. I’m merely giving you my subjective opinions and thoughts. Did I mention, this is not legal or tax advice?
Regulations regarding registering of businesses vary from one jurisdiction to the next. Every country has their own laws regulating businesses and taxes. In the U.S., each state, county and municipality may have their own regulations. There may be federal, state and local taxes to be filed and paid. Depending on what your business is, you may need to deal with sales tax, or VAT (value added tax). It’s your responsibility to find out what laws and regulations apply to you and comply with them. If, for whatever reason, you have no legal requirements, or no legal requirements under a certain income level, that’s great.
However, it may benefit you in the long run, regardless of your actual legal responsibilities, to go ahead and formally register your business with the relevant authorities. In some jurisdictions, it may be as easy as filing a “doing business as” record with the county clerk, which merely indicates that you are a sole proprietor doing business under a particular name (such as a website name, for instance).
Doing these things on the front end may save you time and trouble later, especially if your business becomes successful. Even if not strictly required in your circumstances, it may still make life easier for you and help protect your business. For example, if I were to register my business name with the state, that would prevent someone else from stealing my business name and undermining my hard work. If I’ve just been flying under the radar and some other guy files the paperwork, he’ll have the upper hand, legally, even if I’ve been using the name much longer.
Do some research on the tax benefits of being incorporated (INC) or of forming a limited liability corporation (LLC). What are their disadvantages? Do either of those make sense for your business? Maybe a sole proprietorship is all you need. The thing is, I don’t know and if you’re completely new to this sort of thing, chances are you don’t know. So, find out.
Step 2: Get a Business Address
If possible, get a second address for your business, instead of using your home address. This helps protect your privacy and that of your family if you have one It keeps your personal mail separate and that sort of thing. A P.O. box may work, but a physical address is required for to do a lot of things.
I’m not suggesting you go out and rent office space, just so you can run an online business from your laptop. Check around and see if there are mail box services near you. There are businesses that specialized in this, especially in larger towns and cities. I’ve known of places that will rent you a “suite”. Basically, it’s their physical address with a suite number attached to it. Your leased “space” is a mailbox. Some of these services will forward your mail to you, so you don’t even have to go there.
Step 3: Open a New Bank Account
Open a business bank account to keep your expenses separate from your personal finances. You can probably get a business account where ever you already do your banking. Some people like to open their business accounts with a locally owned bank. There may be some benefit to banking with a local bank, or maybe not. It’s just something you might want to check on if your current accounts are with a national bank. Whichever of these two options you choose, you will be better off if there is a branch nearby in case you run into issues that are best resolved in person.
If you will be selling directly from your website, figure out how you will receive payments. Maybe you’ll do something as simple as using PayPal, but you may want to explore merchant accounts through your bank, or credit card processing companies. Luckily, these days there are a lot of internet-based options that simply the payment process. However, performing due diligence means comparing different ways of doing things to determine what is best in your situation. Don’t just grab hold of the first thing you see. Poor, or hasty, decisions always carry the risk of costing you more money.
Step 4: Create a New Google Account
If you already have a Google account that you use personally, it is a good idea to set up a new account for your business. Again, this puts a wall of privacy between your business and personal affairs.
You may want to create a Gmail account for your business. It is very likely that you will want to use Google Analytics for your site. Since YouTube was bought out by Google, that’s another platform that falls under the Google umbrella. Google is, by far, the world’s dominant search engine, which means that online business owners can not ignore them and expect to be successful at gaining organic traffic to their site. Add to that the other services they provide and you can see why it makes sense to create a new account with Google, specifically for your business.
Step 5: Register a Domain
To start an online business, you will need a website. There are options to set up free sites, but the sooner you have a unique, dedicated domain name the better. If possible, do this on the front end. Like a lot of the other items on this list, it will save you some hassle later. Plus, have your own URL address looks more professional than the URL you will get for free, which is typically just a subdomain of someone else’s site.
Keep in mind, you may be able to postpone some of these steps. When you’re just starting out, you may need to be frugal with your money. I get that. If that’s the case, do what you can now and do the rest as you’re able. In an ideal situation, you would be able to take care of all of this at the beginning. Understandably, we aren’t always working with an ideal situation
Registering a domain and purchasing webhosting are actually two different functions, but they go hand-in-hand. In practical terms, many people think of these as two parts of one task. You can actually register a domain name without building a site for it, but that doesn’t serve much purpose in most cases.
There is no requirement to get your domain and your webhosting from the same provider, but that is the common practice. Doing so simplifies the process. I have used several web hosts over the years, both free and paid services. Right now, I have sites hosted with two different companies and am satisfied with them both. There are others, but I’ll only recommend the ones I can vouch for through personal experience.
A few last points about registering a domain: choose a name carefully and don’t ignore the importance of the domain extension. A domain extension is what comes after the dot. The most common are .com, .net and .org. For businesses, .com is the standard and most people will assume that’s the domain extension, unless told otherwise. Also, avoid using a dash symbol in your domain name. Using mybusiness.com is much better than my-business.com. These are little details that potential customers are likely to miss.
Step 6: Build Your Website
Once you have your domain and some server space to host your site, it’s time to actually create your website. There are different software options to accomplish that. Many people consider WordPress to be the easiest way to build your own website and I tend to agree. If you’re a beginner, especially, I won’t recommend anything else.
By using WordPress, you can build your own website and save a ton of money by not paying someone else to design your site. Even if money was no object, the person you hired to build your site may use WordPress themselves. If you’re not very tech savvy, this may seem intimidating to you, but it’s really not that hard. That being said, there is training available to walk you through the process. If you spend much time using the internet, you have the necessary skills. You may need some guidance, but that’s okay.
Step 7: Generate Traffic to Your Site
Once you have everything set up, it’s time to make money. Not so fast, though. To make money, you need customers. How do you get customers? Traffic. When you hear the word traffic in internet language, that simply means visitors to your website. No traffic means no sales.
It’s not good enough to only get traffic. You need quality traffic. Quality traffic means people that are interested in your business niche that could, hopefully, be interested in your product, or service. There are different ways to get traffic, some free and some paid.
Social media marketing, SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay-per-click) advertising are a few of the ways you can generate traffic. In all three of these examples, they can be tailored to generate quality traffic. To build an effective marketing plan, you will want to use a variety of methods to generate traffic.
Traffic is the lifeblood of your business because no traffic equals zero sales. Quality traffic is especially vital. There are free and paid traffic-generating methods. You can use any combination of them to get quality traffic to your site.
Step 8: Count Your Profits
Now you’re in business, you’ve gotten traffic to your site and the sales are starting to come in. Gradually, you start to recoup the money you invested into getting started. As the sales continue to grow, you start to see some profit. With work and determination, your income will increase over time.
Don’t forget to set aside money to cover your taxes. Don’t forget to reinvest some of your profits into improving your business model. It may be tempting to spend the money as fast as you make it, but if you are trying to make a full-time business of it, plan smart and plan for the future.
Lastly, don’t ever stop learning and improving. Things change and that is definitely true when it comes to technology. Keep up with these changes. You don’t want to be using an outdated website for your business. Also, keep learning more about your niche market and building up your knowledge of effective marketing practices.
Do you have any steps you would add to this list? Leave it in the comments below.
If this seems like a lot and you feel like it’s more than you can tackle on your own, check out my review of the Wealthy Affiliate program. It could be a good option for you in getting your online business in motion.