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With changing habits and lifestyles, people have become more aware of how they utilise their time. Online shopping has become increasingly popular over the past few years but never more so than in recent months where physical shops were forced to close their doors and selling and buying online was the only option. 
 
Starting an online business will have some similarities to that of starting a traditional brick and mortar business and in addition there will be other factors to consider. The initial setting up of your business will depend on the type of business you intend to run, where you will be working and whether you will take on people to help. 

Get your online business idea 

The first step would be to decide what kind of business you wish to set up. There are a number of websites available that you can use to help determine what kind of market you wish to operate in should you not already know. However, if you are thinking of setting up your own online business, more often than not you usually already have some kind of idea as to what you want to do. 
 
Once you believe you have a viable business idea and have decided on your chosen product(s) or service, it is essential that you carry out market research extensively. By researching and testing out the market you will be able to determine whether your business idea has the potential to be successful or not. Market research can also help you plan your next steps and map out how to set up your business, giving you an idea of start-up costs and any kind of funding that may be available to you as well as helping to define your target audience, pricings you should set and of course who your competitors are. 

Create a business plan 

After you have carried out your market research and feel you have a sufficient amount to be beneficial, you’ll need to create a business plan. This is a great way to pull together all that information you have collated and visualise how you see your business in one form of documentation. This will be your working document that you will be able to refer to and add or change over the course of its time. This is also paramount when you are trying to get funding for your business. 
 
Also consider your social media and marketing plan, a presence online is very important and gets your brand out there to potential customers. 
 
For more on how to create a business plan read our advice here and to learn more about how to put a business strategy together read more here.  

Choose your online business model 

As you have now established what kind of online business you are going to set up, you need to ensure your online business model suits your plan and gives you a structure to work with. The two main options which tend to be the most popular are ‘sole trader’ or ‘limited company’. 
 
A sole trader tends to be the best option for those people who are looking to start up a small business. You and your company are seen as one entity and therefore any profit or loss will affect your personal finances. 
 
A Limited company will offer you protection as your company is seen as a separate entity giving you limited liability. 
 
If for example you are intending on starting an online shop or selling a product(s), you’ll be operating on an ecommerce business model making revenue from sales. 
 
There are various models that you can choose from but it’s important to pick the one that suits your and your business best. 

Decide your business name and register 

Before you register your business, you’ll need to come up with a name. It’s important that you remember to make sure that both your business name and domain for your website are available. It will be much easier for customers to find your website if these match, if they are different, this can lead to confusion and even loss of business as your potential customers can be directed elsewhere. 
 
You can easily check if your business name and domain name are available when National Business Registers search here. Learn more about registering and protecting your business name here

Prepare for the costs of setting up an online business 

These will vary dramatically depending on the size of your start up business as well as the type of business that is being started. However, some of the costs that will need to be considered are: 
 
How much it will cost to build an inventory of the products you will be selling. 
The equipment you would need to use, for example, technical equipment. 
The cost of building a website. 
Marketing costs and possible outsourcing of this. 
Company formation costs, if you decide to go with a limited company structure. 
Domain cost, there is usually an annual fee behind this. 

Build your website 

Whether you decide to do this yourself or outsource, the website you create should reflect your business and ensure you align your vision with the web developers. Consider the user experience (UX), this should be easy to navigate and use. The aesthetics and logo, ensure your site is appealing and organised and finally ensure your site is mobile friendly, a vast majority of people use their devices to access sites and this is only getting more popular. 
 
If you will be selling goods, consider payment methods and how you will be charging your customers and what online payment system you will be integrating into your website. 
 
There are many elements to consider when starting your own online business using this simple guide to get started can make all the difference and give you that added confidence boost you may need. 
 
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