How to set up an online business

In 2018, 18.2% of all retail sales in the UK were made online. The year before that, online shoppers in the country spent more per household compared to online shoppers in any other country. There is no better time than now to set up your own online business.

Here’s a simple, step-by-step guide for you to follow when setting up an online business:

1. Prepare a business plan

No matter the platform or technology a business is based on, the foundation for success stays the same: having a solid business plan.

Include the following important elements in your business plan:

  • Your identity: What is your unique selling proposition? What image do you want your brand to convey? Is your website’s name easy to remember and spell?
  • Your competition: What are they doing well? What are their blind spots? Who are they servicing and who are they missing?
  • Your target audience: What is their demographic makeup? What do they want? What are the obstacles they face in getting what they want?
  • Your business model: Are you directly selling products through an e-commerce platform? Are you going to make an informational website for your physical store? Do you plan on making money through advertising or a subscription?

Conducting market research is essential to preparing a business plan that you can confidently follow. This ensures that you have a niche you can carve out for your online business, especially if you’re entering a very competitive market.

2. Build a website

Thankfully, you don’t need to have any formal education in web development to build your website. There are plenty of web-building tools available online that accommodate people with varying levels of technical know-how, including users who have never coded their entire lives.

These tools can guide you throughout the whole process, from designing to listing your products. Whether it’s by using a direct-to-consumer platform or a B2B e-commerce solution, you can get a website running for your online business by yourself with a little time and effort.

If you don’t have the time but do have the money, you can also hire a web developer to build the site for you. You’ll have to rely on them for maintenance, troubleshooting, and updating, so factor in future expenses to know if it’s really worth the cost.

When registering your domain name, consider using a “.uk” domain if you’re focused on local business. A “.co.uk” domain is also a good alternative.

3. Comply with business regulations

Much like how physical stores have to deal with acquiring licenses and meeting industry codes, online businesses are not exempt from complying with digital regulations.

HM Revenue & Customs is the first government agency you need to contact to register your online business and pay your taxes properly. There are three traditional ways to register your business: as a sole trader, a business partnership, or a limited company.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) addresses the privacy and security concerns over consumer data being collected online by businesses. You are required to explicitly ask for your customers’ consent before processing whatever data they provide. You must also clearly state what you will use their data for, freely give them access to that data, and follow their request to remove that data.

A couple more laws you should comply with are The EC Directive Regulations 2002 and The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. You can read up on everything else through the government’s official website.

4. Create optimised content

Publishing information about your business and the products you’re offering is not enough. You need concise, compelling copy that is aligned with the desires of your target audience as well as the image you’re projecting. It goes without saying that site copy should be free of spelling or grammatical mistakes and factual errors.

The content on your website also plays an important role in how easy it will be for people to find you.

Google is the primary search engine customers use when shopping online. You’d want your site to show up on Google’s search results pages (SERPs) for phrases or keywords that are relevant to your business. A major contributor to appearing in the SERPs is quality content applied with search engine optimisation (SEO) methods.

5. Explore digital marketing and advertising avenues

With your website set up, your content ready, and all the legal matters cleared, you can then focus on getting the word out on the existence of your online business through digital marketing and advertising.

You can invest in the conventional pay-per-click (PPC) advertising method, where you pay search engines to display an ad for your site for the keywords you want to show up for.

Email marketing is another tried-and-true tactic, where you send regular emails with useful content to your customers to keep them informed and engaged with your business.

Social media is basically a requirement in this day and age. It’s ingrained in people’s lives, so it’s the simplest way to connect with consumers. Customers also expect businesses to respond immediately to their problems, and they will take to social media to air out their grievances.

You need to identify which social media platforms your audience uses, so you don’t stretch your resources thin by maintaining accounts that don’t get any user engagement.

Securing your starting position

Accomplishing these tasks does not guarantee financial prosperity, but you avoid the potentially disastrous pitfalls that plenty of businesses find themselves in upon entering the online world.

Make sure that you keep tracking your progress, so you can improve where needed, be that by removing site bugs or marketing new products. Focus on providing excellent customer service, so you’ll get repeat and loyal clientele.