Creating your own business is a tremendously exciting time. Potential profits are breathlessly discussed with trusted confidants, while marketing ideas pile up faster than they can be actioned. However, any new online business requires a carefully co-ordinated action plan to ensure it launches with the best possible chance of long-term profitability.
In chronological order, these are ten steps every prospective online entrepreneur should follow…
- Identify a niche. The majority of online businesses fail, the most common reason being because there’s insufficient demand for their products and services. Any company should be looking to solve a problem or provide something that isn’t readily available elsewhere. For instance, while the UK probably doesn’t need another second-hand bookstore, a new online business dedicated to signed copies or out-of-print books has a clear USP.
- Decide on a brand. If your new company supplies long-forgotten hardbacks, why not call it Back in Hardback? Not only does this instantly identify the firm’s niche, it’s a memorable play on words with potential for a stylish mirror-image logo. The backinhardback domain name is still available, too – UK2 can sell you the .co.uk and .com addresses for less than £7 a year each.
- Specify the company type. There are several options, each with their own unique advantages. Being a sole trader simplifies paperwork, whereas a limited company looks more professional. A limited company is better for hiring staff at a later date, though an LLP profit-sharing enterprise maximises personal immunity against corporate misdeeds. Not that you’re planning on being sued by outraged clients, of course.
- Produce a business plan. This is perhaps the most crucial stage of all. From investors to clients, many people may ask to scrutinise your business plan. It’s a valuable aide memoir as your firm evolves, preventing a loss of focus. A good plan will cover annual financial forecasts and marketing strategies. It should also clarify the who, what, where, when and why – and even the how.
- Appoint an accountant. Even if you’re going down the sole trader route, you’ll have annual tax returns to file, a bank account to manage and an Excel or Google Sheets document to fill with incomings and outgoings. Accountants don’t just turn this into annual company accounts – they offer advice on legal and regulatory matters. Good firms will suggest strategies to reduce tax, keeping you out of HMRC’s bad books.
- Register with regulatory bodies. The creation of a company involves registering with Companies House. This is surprisingly easy, with a certificate of incorporation issued to the founder once the business is officially registered. Depending on your industry, you may also need to register with trade bodies, acquire a licence/accreditation, or undergo criminal records checks.
- Establish channels of communication. Set up a dedicated phone line for your new online business to differentiate it from existing personal landlines or mobiles. Adopt a proprietary email account instead of a generic Gmail-style address. Since many customers communicate via social media, Facebook and Twitter accounts are essential; product-oriented brands ought to adopt Instagram, too.
- Cultivate a working environment. Balancing a laptop on your knee in an armchair is unsustainable long-term. You’ll need a proper desk with broadband and a supportive chair, plus a bookcase to store the paperwork that rapidly accrues. Companies with stock will require warehousing, while client-facing businesses should acquire office space in a central location with good transport links.
- Create a website. It’s not the first thing you need to do when creating a new online business, but designing a website is one of the most crucial. Drape an understated colour scheme over a responsive interface that loads quickly and looks equally slick on any screen size. Optimise your SEO through a dedicated plugin, ensuring ecommerce and communications functionalities are stable in all the main browsers.
- Launch a marketing campaign. As the website goes live, it’s time to generate some publicity. Google AdWords is a good place to start, while flyers and brochures can be posted or emailed as PDFs. Consider introductory discounts, and investigate running a competition to harvest email addresses for marketing distribution purposes. Publicise your new enterprise on LinkedIn, with regular links to any new blog posts.