14 Essential Steps to Launching an Ecommerce Business

By Jennifer Schiff | Posted June 18, 2015
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    How to launch an ecommerce business
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    14 Essential Steps to Launching an Ecommerce Business

    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.
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    Small Business Ecommerce: Create an LLC
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    Create an LLC

    While you can set up your new ecommerce business as a sole proprietorship, many small business attorneysrecommend 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 that's 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.
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    Small business ecommerce: Open a business checking account
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    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.

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    Small business ecommerce: Trademark your intellectual property
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    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. 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, starting at $169 (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.

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    Small business ecommerce: Get a sales-and-use tax permit
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    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.
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    Small business ecommerce: study your competition
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    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. 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.
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    Small Business ecommerce: choose an ecommerce platform
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    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? (BigCommerce is a popular choice, 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.

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    Small business ecommerce: hire professionals
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    Hire a good designer, photographer, and writer

    Good product descriptions, 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 plan to sell food online). People buy with their eyes.
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    Small business ecommerce: Provide search-engine optimized product descriptions
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    Provide search-engine optimized product descriptions that inform, not bore, visitors

    Product descriptions are what get people to your site and inform people about what it is you are selling. Make sure your content is descriptive and to the point, without being verbose. There are few products or services that cannot be described in a few well-written sentences, especially when accompanied by a photograph and/or video.

    Tip: Think about how much text you are comfortable reading on your smartphone, and use that as your guide regarding length. If you can't describe your product or service in a few sentences and/or with a few photos or videos, you have a larger problem.

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    Small business ecommerce: site navigation
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    Make your site easy to navigate

    Make finding products and checking out easy—the fewer clicks, the better. And be sure to include a link to your shipping and returns policy on your Home page. Finally, before you go live, have a few friends and colleagues who aren't afraid to tell you the truth test your site and provide feedback.
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    Ssmall business ecommerce: browsers and mobile devices
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    Support multiple browsers and mobile devices

    What's the point of setting up a site if the majority of users can't properly view it? So before you go live, have your designer or Web developer make sure the site (not just the Home page) can be properly viewed in multiple browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari) as well as on popular mobile devices (iPhones, Android devices, iPads).

    Many ecommerce software solutions include this capability, so typically you don't have to create a separate version of your site—yet another thing to check for when considering an ecommerce platform.

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    Small business ecommerce: promote via social media
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    Promote your business before you launch

    Don't wait until after you've launched to spread the word. Set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for your business and start an online SocialProof Boosts Word-of-Mouth Marketing campaign a few weeks before you are ready to go live.
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    Small business ecommerce: inventory
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    Be stocked and ready to sell

    People want what they want when they want it—not two weeks from now. So before you tell people you are open for business, make sure you have stock on hand, or can get it quickly, or that your service is ready to go.

    Did we leave something off the list? Let us know in the comments section below.

An ecommerce entrepreneur outlines the 14 critical steps you need to take to give your ecommerce business the best chance for success.

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