A Primer on Setting up an Online Business in the UK

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There has never been a better time to start an online business. With one pound in every five spent on retail in the UK now going to online stores, having a powerful internet presence to sell your wares or services is a far simpler – and more economical – investment than physical square footage.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the five essential steps you need to get your business up and running.

1. Do the background work

For any business idea, online or not, you need to do your research. Check out your target market to confirm there’s suitable demand for what you want to supply. It’s also worth taking a good look at your potential competitors to see what they’re doing well and what they’re not doing so well, so that you don’t make the same mistakes. You then need a solid business plan, clearly defining your business aims and how you intend to achieve them. This is especially important if you’re looking for outside investment.

Don’t forget that you need a business name, one that lends itself to a suitable, available web address. Register your new address, find a suitable business hosting package and you’re ready for the next stage.

2. Create your site

You can do this part yourself if you want to; there are plenty of inexpensive platforms and themes that enable you to create a professional site without any prior coding knowledge. If you don’t have any experience though, then using a web designer to create the site is definitely a more sensible option. Whilst it might cost more, the investment will likely pay for itself many times over in the long run.

When building an online shop, it makes sense to have an excellent back-end shopping cart system in place and for that, there are several reputable enterprise ecommerce solutions on the market. You also need to decide how you’re collecting payments and look into merchant accounts and their service charges. You’ll also need to think about SEO but more on that in a bit.

3. Take care of the details

In addition to making your site slick, functional, and attractive to users, there are a few crucial details that you need to remember. Make sure your delivery terms and postage rates are clearly stated, in addition to your terms and conditions, privacy policy, contact details and refund policy. You also need a plan for backing up data and to protect against online threats with robust security features.

Testing is also vital. Get some friends and potential customers to try out your site and give you honest feedback – and then act on it.

4. Have a digital marketing plan

Your marketing strategy is arguably the area where businesses can fail or succeed, so getting it right is essential. As I’ve mentioned, search engine optimisation (SEO) has to be a cornerstone of your marketing plan and ideally be in place at the web development stage, not after.

By populating your site with high quality content targeting the right keywords, you can help your site to rank high up in search results pages, securing more traffic and more sales. Don’t rely on PPC and AdWords alone; organic SEO will deliver you more results over time and without the need for a click budget.

There are several SEO tools out there to help you but there really is no substitute for working with an SEO agency with a proven track record in ecommerce SEO.

You can also use social media to spread the word. Social media might not drive the same kind of sales as SEO (Pinterest being a notable exception for certain sectors), it is the cornerstone of digital brand building. Social presence has also been shown to have a positive effect on your search rankings and is excellent at introducing your products to new clients. Get accounts on all relevant platforms – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter – and put a few hours a week into advertising deals and promotions, interacting with customers and generally making yourself known. Don’t forget to make your posts shareable, too: the more shares you get, the better your reach.

5. Know your legislation

Finally, the legal part. You will need to register your business with HMRC for tax purposes. There are also a number of laws that you need to adhere to, including GDPR for data protection, the Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002, and the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Full details of all of these are available on the gov.uk website, together with general guidelines for online selling and setting up and registering a business.

If you’re planning to employ staff, remember that you’ll need to obtain employers’ liability insurance to cover yourself. Online retail insurance is also recommended for both your site and company, to help mitigate against potential problems such as stock damage and cyber attacks.

These steps won’t ensure your ecommerce business is a roaring success, but they are a good starting point. Just make sure to do your research and due diligence and don’t scrimp on investing in your site build and online marketing and you’ll have a great foundation for a successful online business.