How to Start an Online Business in 2021

Start an online business

More Australians shopped online than ever before in 2020, spending a phenomenal $50 billion. While COVID-19 was a key driver of this unpreceded result, the eCommerce market is expected to continue to enjoy strong growth throughout 2021, with more of us working from home and taking advantage of the convenience of online shopping.

If you’ve often thought about starting an online business, 2021 could be the year to take the plunge. Whether you’re attracted to the idea of a home-based online business or want to move your bricks and mortar business online, there’s never been a better time to explore becoming part of the burgeoning ecommerce market.

Read on for information about the essential steps you’ll need to take to start an online business and give yourself the best chance of success.

1. Create a business plan

If you’re starting an online business, creating a business plan will help you to formalise your idea and should be your first step. A good business plan template will guide you through the business creation process step by step, ensuring you complete all the tasks you’ll need to set up your online business correctly.

Even if you don’t refer to your business plan much once you’re up and running, undertaking a SWOT and competitor analysis before you launch will ensure you really understand your market before you begin. If you’re seeking funding, most lenders will want to see a comprehensive business plan before they agree to give you a loan.

The Australian Business Government website has a helpful guide to developing your business plan and a free downloadable business plan template.

2. Choose a business structure

Next, you’ll need to decide on your business’s structure. Your structure will depend on your business’s size, type and how you want to run it, and has an impact on your set-up costs, the tax you’ll pay and your personal liability.

In Australia, businesses can choose from a number of structures when starting or expanding, including:

  • Sole trader: The most basic business structure, which is relatively simple to set up and operate. However, your personal assets are at risk if things go wrong.
  • Company: A company business structure is more complex and limits your liability because it’s a separate legal entity.
  • Partnership: A partnership is a business structure made up of two or more people who distribute income or losses between themselves.
  • Trust: Trust structures are expensive and complicated to set up but provide strong asset protection.

The Business Registration Service has a handy tool to help you find the business structure that best suits your needs. You should also speak with your business adviser or accountant for personalised advice.

3. Register your business

Before you start trading, you’ll need to register your online business with the government. You’ll need to:

Register your business name.

Unless you’re trading under your personal name, you’ll need to register a business name. When deciding on a business name, consider:

  • Is it memorable? Short and simple? Easy to pronounce and spell?
  • Is it different from your competitors?
  • Is it trademarked?
  • Is the domain (website) name available?

The Australian Business Government website lets you check if your proposed business name is available and see if existing businesses are using a similar name and whether the domain is available. Once you’ve decided on your name, you can register it at the Australian Business Registration website.

Get an ABN (Australian Business Number)

An ABN is a unique 11-digit number that identifies your business to the government and ATO. It’s free to register for an ABN. For more information and to apply, visit the Australian Business Register.

Apply for licences and permits

Depending on the online business you’re starting, you may need a licence and/or permit. The Australian Business Licence and Information Service is an excellent resource for information relevant to your business type, industry and location.

4. Design and build your website

As an online business, your website is your shopfront. It’s essential that it makes the right first impression and is easy for customers to use. Depending on your skills, budget, and the amount of time you have, you might choose to outsource your web design and build to a team of designers, developers and copywriters, or do it yourself using an ecommerce platform like Square Online.

Square Online makes it simple to design a beautiful online store quickly without any coding knowledge. You can add your logo and other branding elements to provide a customised look and feel and include feeds from your social channels.

Square Online also gives you access to a range of powerful eCommerce tools. Online orders are automatically synced with your inventory, you can sell seamlessly via Instagram and Facebook, and shipping and fulfilment are fully integrated with your point of sale system. Square Secure provides multiple layers of encryption, real-time transaction monitoring, and manages any payment disputes on your behalf.

Square Online Store

Build your business with a free online store.

There are plenty of other steps you may need to take when going live with your new online business. The right approach for you will depend on your business size, type and sector, and whether you plan for your online business to be your sole source of employment or just an extra income stream. Maybe you want to start an online business but don’t know what to focus on? Our blog, 7 unique ideas for an online business, has some ideas.

Whatever position you’re in, taking a planned approach to setting up your online business will give you the best chance of nailing a smooth, hassle-free launch and building a successful online brand into the future.