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How to set up an online business

POSTED: 20th June 2013
IN: Guides
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Online retail is taking an increasing share of the overall retail market so if you are thinking of setting up a business it is vital to have an online presence.

undefinedFinding the right niche

Decide what sector your business will operate in and then research the market.

You need to look at the competition and analyse other business competitors to find out who they are, what they do, who their products are aimed at and what areas they are particularly strong in.

From this try and identify a niche in the sector that your business can focus on. Research your potential audience and decide how to engage with them.

Setting up a website

Your next step is to decide on a domain name that is available, easy to remember and simple. You then need to research and decide who will host your domain and sign up to an email delivery service.

Setting up a website is easier than it has ever been. If you have a small business there are a number of free and easy to use platforms that you can use.

Wordpress is perhaps the best known and this will allow you to set up a basic business website, add content, add links and enable your customers to find out everything they need to know about your business.

If you are a bigger business then you could approach an agency or firm that will set up a website for you. This can add expertise and, depending on your budget, provide extra features and richer presentation.

Advantages of an online business

Online retail is growing, rising by more than ten per cent on an annual basis, according to the latest figures for May from the British Retail Consortium.

UK consumers use online retail more than any other country, so any new UK business needs to look to take advantage of that.

Recent high street casualties have included Comet, Jessops and Blockbuster and one of the UK’s largest supermarkets, Morrisons, recently admitted that its performance has been hurt by its lack of online presence.

Online businesses have lower costs through cheaper rent and rates and are therefore able to compete better on price.

Disadvantages of an online business

Online businesses deny the customer the ability to look at and touch the product they are interested in and they also lack a personal feel.

Certain types of businesses are better suited to online than others. Books and CDs are well suited as a customer does not need to examine the item to know they will get a quality product.

Furniture stores and groceries are perhaps better suited to having an online presence in addition to a physical store so that consumers can look and feel what they are getting and then perhaps buy online at a later date.

Apart from the services sector, there are few types of businesses that could not benefit from an online presence and even businesses in the services sector such as pubs and restaurants now have a website so that people can check the business out, look at the menu and prices before deciding to visit.

Sales and marketing

Once you have decided on the nature of your business, you need to get your name out there.

To do this online requires either a lot of effort or a mixture of effort and money.

Quality content on your website produced with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind will help as will posting content on other websites or forums with links back to your website.

However, this is a painstaking process and does not guarantee results.

A social media presence on Facebook and Twitter is vital. Aim to run competitions and promotions to get more followers or ‘likes’ and post brief engaging content regularly.

If you have a budget then you can advertise your online business on the internet with paid-for ads or by using Google Adwords.

How to keep expenses low

Costs are lower with an online business and you can keep them lower by producing the content yourself and learning how to get the best from the internet.

Approaching your bank

If you want advice or finance from your bank, then set up a business plan as you would for any business idea and approach in the same way, but ensure you understand what makes an online business more likely to work.

Regulatory requirements

An online business needs to produce the normal financial statements just as any other business does. For more information visit http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/factsheet/record-keeping.pdf

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