While it is easier than ever (in theory) to open an ecommerce business, many new and even experienced business owners don’t take the time to lay the proper groundwork. So while you may be in a rush to get your business online, before you go live, make sure you have checked off these 14 items. Doing so will increase your chance of online success.
1. Create an LLC
While you can set up your new ecommerce business as a sole proprietorship, many small business attorneys recommend you create a limited liability company, or LLC, instead. Why? As the name implies, an LLC provides you with limited liability in case you are sued. Unlike a sole proprietorship, an LLC is a legal entity separate from you. In other words, if someone sues your business, or one of your employees, your personal assets are protected. And for the minimal amount of money required to form an LLC in most states (typically no more than a few hundred dollars, if that), it is well worth it to protect your personal assets.
2. Open a business checking account, and get a business credit card
Again, it’s important to separate your business assets from your personal assets. So as soon as possible, set up a business checking account and get a business credit card. If you have a good relationship with your bank, contact it first.
Depending on the amount of assets you have held there, you may receive a discount and/or preferential treatment and better rates than opening an account at a new bank. But be sure to check around, visiting smaller local banks and credit unions as well as large financial institutions, to ensure you get the best deal. As for applying for a business credit card, determine which is more important: better interest rates, cash back or rewards – and read objective reviews to determine which card to apply for in that category.
3. Trademark your intellectual property
The last thing you want after going through the trouble – and money – to set up your ecommerce business is someone stealing or copying your business name, logo, products and/or services. So protect your intellectual property by trademarking it with the United States Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO).
Don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy that is the U.S. Government? There are several good, reputable sites (e.g., LegalZoom, Trademarkia) that can file your trademarks for you, for a few hundred dollars (on top of the few hundred dollars required to apply). You can also reach out to your local chapter of SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) to find someone to walk you through the process.
4. Get a sales and use tax permit or resale certificate
Even though your business may be entirely online, at some point you will need to charge and collect sales tax, if only in the state in which your business is registered. To find out what is required in your state, and apply, go to your state’s Department of Revenue Services website – or ask your accountant.
5. Check out the competition and decide how to set your ecommerce business apart
Before you start designing your ecommerce site, you should research your competition. Go online and see what kind of sites similar online businesses have. Bookmark three of the sites you like best. Then write down what it is you like about them. Then send the links and your list to your designer/web developer (more about this, below). This should speed up the design process – and save you money. Note: Make sure your site doesn’t look or sound too similar to other sites, as you want to stand out from the competition – in a good way – not blend in.
6. Choose the right ecommerce solution
There are dozens of ecommerce platforms and shopping carts out there aimed at small businesses, but which one is right for your business and the person who will be managing the site? (I use BigCommerce and love it, but it may not be right for every small business owner.)
While seeing examples of other sites created using that ecommerce software is a good start (i.e., make sure you like the templates or, if you are planning on hiring a professional designer, what other pros have done with the software), nothing can replace actually using the software.
Before you sign up, do a free trial. The software company doesn’t offer a free trial? Don’t use it. And when doing the free trial, be sure you can easily add and delete products and add and delete Web pages. Does the software come with SEO tools? Does it offer social media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) integration? These are all must-haves in today’s ecommerce world. Finally, be sure to check out the company’s refund policy before you hand over your credit card information.
7. Hire a good designer, photographer and writer
Good product descriptions (see below), SEO and marketing are what will drive people to your ecommerce site. Good website design and navigation and great photographs will keep people there and get them to buy from you. As successful ecommerce business owners will tell you, it’s worth shelling out a few hundred, even a few thousand, dollars to create a visually appealing, easy-to-navigate site, especially if you are a retail business (and an absolute must if you are selling food online). People buy with their eyes.