10 Tips for Starting your Online Business

Written by Jon on 19th January 2016

So you have a product or service and want to start selling online? Before you look at the website there are a number of areas that you can research first giving you a clearer idea of what you want to achieve with your website and minimise any expensive mistakes.


1. Identify and Allocate your Budget

It is sometimes too easy to get carried away at the beginning of your new venture and realise you don’t have enough budget to complete your project and end up making concessions which could have been avoided with some careful planning.

As a starting point, although all businesses will vary, you should ensure the appropriate funds have been allocated to the following areas:

  • inventory (because you need something to sell!)
  • branding and design
  • web design and build
  • hosting and security arrangements
  • marketing

The last one is incredibly important. I have seen, on more than one occasion, where no budget has been put in place for marketing, and it has all been spent on branding and a fancy new website will little funds to actually promote it!

2. Trademarks and Brand Protection

You may have found the perfect name for your online business, but now you need to find if the domain name is available and also to ensure there are no trademarks attached to this name within your chosen vertical.

If you are in the US or planning on selling globally then a .com is the preferred web address, whereas if you’re only selling in a specific country then the relevant domain suffix (.co.uk, .de, .fr) will be sufficient and normally offer a little more flexibility in choice.

In order to protect your brand, I would recommend you register the alternatives to your domain name, ideally it should also not be too similar to another web address or competitor or you risk confusing customers and ultimately losing sales.

3. Research your Market and Identify your Customer Profile

By knowing who your customer profile is will allow you to determine what your brand should look like and who it should appeal to. It’s important to take time to do this research before you embark on any design or development work as changes throughout the project could incur additional costs.

If you have allocated budget for a branding exercise with a professional then this type of research will be incorporated within the branding remit, they will help you to identify your customer and how to appeal to them in the most effective manner.

4. Test the Market

This is optional, but I always think it is a good idea, particularly if you already have inventory, to test your product on an online marketplace i.e. Amazon or eBay.

This allows you to test price points, address any issues with your dispatch/delivery process and most importantly obtain feedback from your customers. The feedback/review system is heavily embedded within both of these marketplaces and a great opportunity to great objective feedback, from a large pre-existing customer base.

They are both relatively easy to setup and require minimal technical knowledge, they can also provide you with valuable information on what functionality you might require for you website.

5. Find a Web Agency/Digital Partner

When looking for a technical partner, it is a good idea to provide a project specification but with a section encouraging partners to offer their own ideas about what you might require.  This can allow the partner to demonstrate an understanding of your business and also suggest other features (which you might not be aware of) that would benefit your business.

It is likely that you will be working with a digital agency to design and develop your website and it is always a good idea to meet face to face wherever possible to start to build that relationship.

Depending on your choice of platform i.e. hosted or unhosted, you may need to find a hosting provider. A good agency will either host it themselves or recommend a partner supplier that they have worked with before.

One last thing to note, cheaper is not always the better option, and should be (wherever financially viable) looked at on a value for money basis.  You should also ask if the price is fixed or likely to increase over time as it is not unusual to hear of projects that started off reasonable and spiralled out of control. Unsurprisingly this can put a strain on your relationship with your technical provider.

If in doubt, just ask for some references and you can then do your own research.

6. Research your Logistical Options

Finding a reliable and flexible delivery partner is not always that easy but is incredibly important.  As an online retailer it is your responsibility to ensure the customer’s order gets to them safely and quickly (there are only so many times you can blame the courier!)

Shipping is one of the key factors for cart abandonment (over 35%) and this provides you with an opportunity to ensure your delivery options are not only competitive but flexible enough to offer convenient options to your customers.

Look at what your competitors are doing and find out which solution they are using. The simplest way to find this out is to just order (if possible) from your competitor! You’ll get a clear idea of the service they offer and it should provide you with ideas on how to improve on the current service out there.

No matter how good your product or website is, if it arrives late or in less than satisfactory state it will be the last thing a customer remembers and may put them off from ordering from you again in the future.

7. Invest in Professional Imagery

A poorly taken picture of your product is enough justification for a customer to leave without purchase, people purchase with their eyes, so it makes sense to ensure that the images portray your product as accurately as possible.

You should have a selection of images for each product and there is no harm including a couple of lifestyle shots included so customer can see the product ‘in situ’.

Good images can make or break your website, and even with the best designed website in the world poor images can really let it down.

P.S.  It is no coincidence that Amazon insists on high quality images with a white background and with no logos or product info.

8. Spend Time on Your Product Descriptions

This is your opportunity to stand out from your competitors and the noise in your market, product descriptions should be informative, personal and written for humans, not robots!

One line descriptions are not nearly enough, nor should you be using template descriptions that may have been provided by a supplier. Not only is this considered duplicate content (an SEO no-no) but they are often not written with the end user in mind.

9. Have a Marketing Strategy

This is really a separate post on its own, but something that should not be ignored, having a plan in place will allow you to allocate your budget accordingly.

It is sometimes too easy to get bogged down in the setup of the business, without having a plan on how you are going to market your business and let people know who and where you are!

The old saying of “Build it and they will come” no longer applies in today’s over saturated world, so having a marketing plan is just as essential as making sure your business is setup properly.

10. Network with Like Minded Individuals

There are a vast amount of ecommerce groups, meetings and events around the world, these can be found on websites such as Eventbrite and Meetup.

Attending these events allow you to network with others in the ecommerce world and learn from their knowledge and experience, this is great particularly when you are looking for recommendations on solution providers or software you are thinking of using.

These events are usually free and a great way to learn about the latest happenings in your industry and to learn from the experience of others.

If you are worried that people might steal your idea then be vague when explaining your service, however if your idea is that easy to steal, you may want to give this some additional thought.

Work through the above and you will be in good shape to start work on your website and launch your business to great heights.