Opening an Online Store

opening online store

You've made up your mind - it's time to start your very own online store. Whether this is a sudden decision or one that's been a long time coming, it's easy to feel intimidated by the complexity of the online selling setup process. Fear not; there's a definite path to follow to successfully grow your business online. Here's how to get off the starting block and quickly progress to the heart of the matter - selling.

Step 1: Figure out what you're selling, why you're selling it, and how much you're selling it for.
Your online business has access to millions of customers, yet the competition will probably be much steeper than doing business in a brick-and-mortar store. So how can you truly stand out online? According to Entrepreneur.com, "The trick is to find a group of people who are searching for a solution to a problem, but not finding many results." Visiting online forums and keyword research will help you figure out exactly what there's a need for and who's already selling something similar.

Other questions to guide your initial decisions and help you find your niche might include asking yourself what makes your items stand out from companies selling something similar. Is it something about your business's guarantee, background, the materials used, or even the creation process that sets it apart?

Step 2: Register your business.
It might seem like this is an unnecessary step since your business is online, but it's important to register with your state. Why? This step will help you make sure you're complying with any standards and regulations, limit personal liability, add credibility, and help you save money at tax time. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, "If you are operating your online business in a state that charges a sales tax; or levies a gross receipts or excise tax on businesses, you may have to apply for a tax permit or otherwise register with your state revenue agency."

Where should you register? Experts say that even though some states have more tax-friendly advantages, registering in your home state is usually more cost-effective. You will also need to obtain an Employee Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS (which can be done online at www.irs.gov) and register for applicable sales and state taxes, which can be done through your state's Department of Revenue. You might also need other licenses and permits depending on your state and your business, so log on to the U.S. Small Business Association's website at www.sba.gov to find out more.

Step 3: Decide how you're going to sell.
With hundreds of options to choose from, selling platforms range from quick and easy to complex and robust. You can choose to have an ecommerce platform built specifically for your business or select a pre-built platform to get up and running quickly. No matter which option you choose, your goal should be to pay for only the options you need, while fitting nicely in your budget.

Consider the type of products you're offering, how you're planning on shipping it, the payment methods you're going to accept, and your level of technical expertise. If making updates, designing themes, and developing new features for your store won't be a problem, look for a platform that gives you the ability to make modifications any time like WooCommerce. If you're not exactly tech-savvy and want someone else to host your site, look for a platform that has pre-built options for you to choose from like Shopify. Don't forget that you'll also need a domain name, a web host if you're not hosting the site yourself, a dedicated IP address, and a private SSL certificate. A domain name is the website that people will type in to reach your store. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer protocol and encrypts data between the browser and the website server to protect customer data. SSL certificates do require a dedicated IP address.

Step 4: Create your business plan and build your inventory.
Your business plan might not seem like an immediate need, but it's key because it will serve as your guide and framework for all things related to your store, including financing, marketing, advertising, and goal-setting. Considered a "living document" by the U.S. Small Business Administration, this "roadmap" will outline how your company plans to grow financially in the next few years. Important elements of a proper business plan include (but are not limited to) an executive summary or snapshot of your business, your company's description, a market analysis, financial projections, and all marketing plans.

Now is also the time to start building your inventory. No one likes trying to buy something that's out of stock, but take storage into consideration before you begin purchasing. Selling online may also require UPC barcodes for each item if you're selling at a wholesale rate or to large resellers, so you may want to investigate barcode options if this will be a concern.

Step 5: Launch your site, advertise and start selling!
Once your business plan is finalized, the site has been thoroughly tested for any bugs, and your product is in, you're ready to launch! Put those advertising strategies from your business plan to work and start growing your fan base. Once everything is up and running, take care to regularly maintain your business by managing inventory, providing excellent customer service, and fine-tuning your selling strategy. Best of luck on your new selling endeavor!