How to Start an Online Business

Starting an online business is easier than ever, with user-friendly tech that lets even the smallest business enjoy smooth payments and admin, and never miss out on a sale. Here’s how to get started with your online venture.

Five things to consider before starting an online business

It’s tempting to jump straight in to starting an online business, especially as you can do it from anywhere. Before you start though, take some time to think about these five things, and then go for it.

1. Taxes (VAT)

Tax is something you must consider when you’re thinking about starting any kind of online business, from beginning a side hustle to expanding an existing enterprise.

If you are a sole trader and expecting only to make a smallish amount of income, you may need to complete a self-assessment tax return. That generally applies to anyone who earns more than £1,000 profit from an online business. Bigger businesses that turnover more than £80,000 need to consider VAT.

Tax is a complicated area, so you might want to seek professional advice, or hire an accountant.

2. Trademarks/copyright

Consider if you need to protect any of your own trademarks, designs or patents before publishing sensitive information online - and take steps to ensure you don’t breach rights that belong to someone else.

Copying chunks of words from another website, for example, may not only get you in trouble, but could also lead search engines to put a penalty on your website – making it less visible to customers.

In terms of images, make sure you have permission to publish product photos and other imagery. Some website building tools have free images and you can also find royalty free images via sites like Shutterstock and Pixabay.

3. Shipping restrictions

How will you get goods and orders to customers once you make a sale? When you’re setting delivery rates, consider different costs for different items or distances. Sending large items or items further afield will definitely cost more. Square Online can help with setting up delivery areas and rates. It is also worth considering click and collect and how it works.

Remember some items cannot be sent by standard mail, including alcohol, batteries in certain circumstances and some aerosols. Couriers might be a good solution, depending on your goods.

4. PCI compliance

All businesses that take card payments need to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to show they process payments safely and securely. Failure to comply could put you at risk of data breaches, fines and brand damage.

Powering your online payments system via an approved and reliable provider takes this headache away – be sure to check your chosen partner has PCI compliance built in.

5. Inventory management

With any business, including an online one, you want to ensure you can always fulfil the orders you’ve got and that you’re not left holding with stock that’s either perishable, or hard to shift. This can be particularly tricky to keep track of if you have an omnichannel business (with physical and digital outlets).

Consider technology that tracks and matches raw material and stock levels with orders to help you keep on top of your inventory.

Having a start a business checklist of everything to consider and work on, is a great idea – it will help you stay on track, and it feels great when you tick an item off the list.

Have an idea

Business success, online or otherwise, begins with innovation – having an idea and seeing it through. Consider what you’re going to provide, who your customers will be and why they will come to you rather than someone else.

It may be that you have something unique to offer or that you can see how you can do something better than competitors. Perhaps you are expanding an existing business online.

If you’ve decided you’d love to run your own online business, but haven’t decided exactly what to focus on yet, have a think about:

  • the skills you have
  • what you could provide that people need or want
  • your values and how you could create a business you’re passionate about that matches up
  • other online businesses that are working well and how you could break into their market.

You could also look at some of our other blog articles for ideas, perhaps try:

Find your URL and brand name

Your brand name should reflect your identity. If you’re selling a funky, innovative product, this should be reflected in your name. You might choose something really unusual or catchy that will catch the interest of your intended audience. In the same way, if you’re offering professional services, you may want to keep things slightly more serious

More inventive and unusual brand names stand out from the crowd, stick in people’s minds and face less competition in a search engine.

Brand names and URLs (web addresses) that include keywords that make it clear what the business does (bakery, fashion, web design) may be more likely to attract customers who are not yet familiar with the brand. It’s worth giving it some thought and then considering how you’ll create a uniform identity across digital platforms.

Competition for social media handles and web domain names can be fierce so you may want to see what is available before committing.
Finding a free domain name might be tricky, so you may even want to take this step first before officially registering as a business and making your brand name final. For example, if you’re considering setting up as John Smith Design, but JSDesign.com is the only available URL to you, it may be better to consider making this your official brand name for all other media.

Build a website

There are now so many ways to take payment online that it is possible to start an online business without a website.

You might decide to test out your business with pay links or buttons from social media posts or by joining an established web marketplace like Etsy or eBay. Before long, it is usually a good idea to consider creating a website of your own – and it doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated.

Consider your technical skill and what is going to work best for you. There are so many simple tools for building a website now that it is not necessary to enlist a professional - there are tools and templates out there to help you build your dream website for your business.

Square Online allows you to create a slick website without the need to even use any coding – and for free. Just select the look you want, pull in the pre-designed blocks and publish. You can choose a theme that has been specially designed to work best for your industry and then totally customise it.

Square Online Stores have digital shopping cart features all built in. Pay only when you make a sale or upgrade to a monthly fee for more features.

You can also continue to use pay buttons and pay links directly in social media posts, newsletters or any other digital spaces where you engage with your customers with Square Online Checkout.

Optimise for SEO

Even if you have a great business idea and the perfect domain, it won’t mean much if people can’t find it. That’s where Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) comes in. Put in simple terms, SEO helps make your page easier for search engines to find and therefore more visible to customers – new and existing.

In 2021, 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine and less than 1% of people click on a result that appears on the second page. Putting some time and effort into SEO makes sense as appearing in positions on page one can deliver real commercial results, as people click through and explore your website.

Ensure you consider SEO when creating content for your site, optimising content to keywords when possible and spend a bit of time tweaking the settings on your pages to maximise benefit.

Promote, promote, promote

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter create opportunities to promote your newly hatched online business. You can keep your social media accounts up to date with your new products and offers, give an insight into your work or helpful tips based on your expertise. Your content on social media, just as it should be on any blog (also a great addition to any website), should be valuable and useful to your customers, strengthening your identity as a professional brand.

Marketing isn’t a solo task, either, whether through cross-posts, guest blogs or recommendations, try working with other online businesses to help promote one another.

When you set up an online business you open up a whole new world of opportunities – for you and your business. When you’ve chosen your path and you’re ready to start selling online, get a helping hand from Square Online.


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