Checklist for Opening an Online Store

must-have

Finally getting serious about starting your own online side business? Or are you ready to move into the world of online retail full-time? Either way, starting your own online store can be a fun, easy experience or a stressful, nerve-wracking endeavor. It all boils down to how prepared you are and knowing what retailing practices are considered the most important ones. The five items below are our picks for the most important elements when opening an online store.

1. The Online Business Basics

The name of your business, the items (or services) you're offering and pricing for these items are your first priority. Next should come your domain name, also known as the web address of your store, which will cost around $10 per year. Websites like Bust a Name and Panabee are two Lifehacker.com-approved naming resources that can help you find the perfect domain name based off of your most important keywords.

As you're setting up shop, you might also want to consider renting a post office box for any business-related correspondence. It helps prevent incoming packages from theft, adds to the credibility of your business if you're operating out of a residence, and provides anonymity on the internet with only a small per-year cost.

2. A Flexible Website Plan

When starting your online store, the goal is to aim for something good, not something perfect. Why? Because your online business will always be a work in progress. You'll most likely change your products, layout, and even your selling strategy as you receive feedback, review data, and pinpoint issues. Instead of worrying about all of the little details up front, save some time, start building what you want now and tackle small issues along the way.

The reasons listed above also explain why it's crucial to have a flexible website plan. Whether you're relying on your ecommerce builder to help you make changes quickly or you're building the site yourself, plan your website so that it can easily grow along with your business.

3. Access to an Expert Accountant

Every store, whether online or offline, should have access to expert business advice when needed. This especially rings true for matters relating to your store's finances. A good accountant can answer tough questions like whether forming an LLC is necessary or how your business will affect your wallet come tax time. He or she will also advise you on available loan options, help you answer any location-related tax questions, and can take over financial responsibilities if you become overwhelmed.

If you're thinking that keeping an accountant on your staff will be too expensive, consider hiring one as needed on a consulting basis. Just when will you need a financial expert the most? While you're writing your business plan, determining your business structure, or analyzing financial data, accountants can save you tons of time

4. Original Content

With so many online shopping options, your store has to be more than just a place to spend some cash. As a new seller, your items may entice shoppers to visit, but it's your customer service techniques, expert knowledge of your items, and selling skills that will determine if they come back to buy more. Use your store as a place to provide knowledge, share interesting information, and show that you're an expert in the industry. Blog about what you love, interact with the online community around the items you sell, and don't shy away from sharing news related to your online store.

Speaking specifically about your store's items, using product descriptions and pictures supplied by manufacturers may seem like they've already done the work for you - but don't fall into that trap. If you use them, your content may exactly match up with thousands of other companies who bought the same products - and are using the same words and pictures to describe them.

It's best to get in the habit of rewriting all of the item descriptions in your own words and snapping your own product photos. This way you'll get to put your brand's spin on what you're selling and distinguish your items from other online shops that are selling something similar.

5. A Way to Interact with Customers

People love to share what worked for them and what didn't. Encourage these vocal shoppers - they can help expand the amount of original content you have and become your brand's biggest advocates! Try turning submissions into monthly contests or offer a discount for any product that is reviewed to keep the comments coming. Looking to address customer comments head on, in real-time? Turn to social media to answer questions in a transparent way, demonstrate your amazing customer service skills, and offer behind-the-scene looks at what's coming next.