From making sure all legal needs are met to keeping business and personal values aligned, here are 22 answers to the question, “What can I include on a checklist when starting an online business?”
- Meet Legal and Regulatory Requirements
- Check Your Domain Name for Trademarks
- Plan Through Competition Research
- Understand Your Target Audience
- Choose a Payment Processor
- Set Up Your Business Email
- Find Out if Your Niche Industry is Growing
- Enforce a Data Protection Plan
- Prepare Your Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account
- Acquire Necessary Government Licenses
- Search for Bugs
- Set Up Social Media Accounts
- Find a Tech Partner
- Invest in SEO for Your Website
- Form a Good Web Host
- Build Your “Social Proof” Fortress
- Keep Your Secrets Safe
- Create a Crystal-Clear Plan for Customer Support
- Make a Brand Kit
- Research a Market Before Generating Site Traffic
- Align Your Work With Your Values
Meet Legal and Regulatory Requirements
It is crucial that your online business meets the norms prevalent in your country or region. After all, even when you launch a global brand, you are liable to meet the legal and regulatory requirements that will validate your business in the eyes of the law.
Registering a business, completing the paperwork that comes with setting it up in line with industry practices, and even honoring the formalities associated with employment are all crucial steps when starting an online venture.
Besides offering your business legal status, these steps will also provide your brand the protection it needs against fraud, identity theft, and other online risks.
Riley Beam, Managing Attorney, Douglas R. Beam, P.A.
Check Your Domain Name for Trademarks
Countless times I’ve seen people start an online business, they find a nice domain name and register it, fearing someone else will get it first.
You may be lucky, but what if part of the domain name is a registered trademark? You don’t want to be in this situation, where you have to change your domain name years down the road, after spending money to build a good online reputation.
There are tons of websites you can use to check for trademarks, so I won’t recommend any, but it’s crucial to do a serious check before settling on a domain name.
Ionut-Alexandru Popa, Editor-in-Chief and CEO, BinaryFork
Plan Through Competition Research
As you start your online business, one thing to include on your checklist is that you research the industry and competition in your area. This is important, as it will give you a more solid idea of whether your business can thrive once it’s launched.
Plus, you can see how much of a market there is for your product or service. You really want to avoid oversaturation, which could leave your business dead in the water. Use this strategy head-on, determining if there’s room for your business and what marketing you’ll need to plan for a successful venture.
Marcus Hutsen, Business Development Manager, Patriot Coolers
Understand Your Target Audience
One of the most critical elements of business planning strategy is understanding your target audience, and the best way to do that is by creating buyer personas. For example, let’s say your online business sells handmade crafts.
By creating a buyer persona, you might learn that your target audience is primarily women between the ages of 35 and 55, looking for unique and meaningful gifts for their friends and family.
With this information, you can tailor your product offerings and marketing messages to appeal specifically to this group. Without a clear understanding of your target audience, you risk making decisions that don’t resonate with your potential customers.
This can cause a lack of engagement, and a failure to convert leads into sales. By creating buyer personas, you’ll be able to focus your efforts and resources on the things that matter most to your target audience.
Michael Green, Co-Founder, Winona
Choose a Payment Processor
Choose a payment processor that will work with the business model. The payment processor will handle online transactions and may also provide other services, such as fraud protection.
It is important to consider a payment processor that offers a variety of payment methods, allowing customers convenient access to purchase goods and services online.
You should opt for one that offers fast transactions with secure customer data protection. Be sure to research payment processor options and compare fees, customer service, and payment methods side by side to find the best fit for your business model.
Don’t forget to read customer reviews from previous clients as well; this could help you make an informed decision. Reach out with questions before selecting a payment processor, knowing it will work with the success of your online business!
Carlos Trillo, CEO and Founder, Evinex
Set Up Your Business Email
Set up your business email when starting your online business. You need a professional-looking email address when communicating with your stakeholders and for your clients and suppliers to contact you.
Make your email address the same as your website as much as possible. For example, if your “website URL is www.myawesomebusiness.com,” then your business email should ideally be “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
A professional business email conveys credibility and trustworthiness and will reassure potential customers and suppliers that you are a legitimate business entity.
Kevin Huang, Founder and CEO, Ambient Home US
Find Out if Your Niche Industry is Growing
Starting an online business is a huge undertaking. Before you invest large amounts of time in creating a strategy to enter a market, take a minute to see if it is likely to be a growth industry or is in decline. You can quickly get an insight into the status of an industry with Google Trends.
This free tool from Google will give you a clear picture of the interest in your business idea and how it tracks trends throughout time. It is quick to test ideas and also displays related breakout terms which might even point you in another direction to niche down to something more specific.
Allan Noble ACIM, SEO Manager, Tikkurila
Enforce a Data Protection Plan
When starting an online business, it is important to make sure you have everything you need before getting started.
An often overlooked but essential item to include on your checklist is a data protection plan. This plan should encompass everything from the security of your customers’ information to regularly backing up your financial and customer data.
By having a well-thought-out data protection plan in place, your online business runs smoothly and securely with no unexpected issues or surprises arising from a lack of preparation.
Kate Duske, Editor-in-Chief, Escape Room Data
Prepare Your Taxes
I’ve seen far too many online businesses brought low by making mistakes with their tax preparations. This has included everything from not calculating profit margins to account for the hit from taxes, to not filing taxes appropriately before the filing deadline, to not taking advantage of any deductions you’d know about if you spent a few minutes Googling it.
It is one of those things that seems to be a major blind spot to new business owners the first time they set up an online business, so I highly recommend running your business and monetization strategy past an accountant or tax preparer to make sure you’ve got your bases covered.
Kate Kandefer, CEO, SEOwind
Open a Business Bank Account
You don’t need to open a separate business bank account as a solopreneur for legal reasons. Still, it’s almost always better to open one from the start for cleaner record keeping, increased business credibility, better financial control, reduced personal risk, and well-protected assets with legal or financial issues.
But not all business bank accounts will equally suit your needs. Look for features that cater to online businesses with top-notch banking platforms, digital payment processing, excellent remote customer service, and other small business perks.
Read reviews to get a more realistic view of the customer experience before settling on and opening your first business bank account!
Jack Underwood, CEO and Co-Founder, Circuit
Acquire Necessary Government Licenses
Get all the government permits and licenses you need for your business. It’s vital that your business can legally operate before you launch.
If you’re not sure which documents the government requires for your business, check the US Small Business Administration website for federal licenses and your state website for state licenses.
Federal and state licenses will vary based on location, industry, business activities, and offerings. Find out the applicable fees for each of your required licenses and permits. Finally, keep track of your permits’ and licenses’ expiration and renewal dates.
Peter Hoopis, Owner and CEO, Peter Hoopis
Search for Bugs
You’ve built the website, you feel good about a launch, and you’re confident in your service, but have you deliberately looked for bugs, glitches, or errors that affect the functionality of your website?
This is something that so many online business owners forget to do, only to discover an error that interferes with their business, reputation, or quality of service. For example, make sure each hyperlink with your business email actually links to the right address.
I’ve seen this where a single link leads to someone else’s random email—so many lost business queries!
Paul Kushner, CEO, My Bartender
Set Up Social Media Accounts
Set up your social media presence to spread awareness of your business. Checking out a brand’s Instagram or Facebook profile is a consumer’s habit because they want to know more about your product.
So, it’s important to announce your presence in the virtual world. You want your company to be accessible to your target audience and let them get to know your brand better by simply visiting your profile.
Start by preparing at least one month’s worth of social media strategy for one or two platforms first, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Prepare daily and weekly content, such as static and dynamic posts, short videos for stories and reels, and other content ideas.
Mark Woodbury, Co-Founder, Minerva Equity
Find a Tech Partner
Choose the right technology partner. Although you’re likely the visionary behind your business’ mission, try to find a kindred spirit who understands what you’re going for to bring the dream to life online.
Take your time to discuss the support you’ll receive along the way and solution methodologies. Make sure your tech partner will keep you informed through the process to make sure that you and they agree.
Kenneth Lin, CEO, BOOP Bakery
Invest in SEO for Your Website
Don’t make the mistake of omitting search engine optimization campaigns from your online business checklist. SEO is the name of the game for anything on the digital landscape nowadays.
All the hard work you’ve spent on putting up your website, producing content, and marketing your product will be for naught if your website is not visible on search engines.
In order to reach your target audiences, show up where they are, which is what SEO essentially does for you.
Garrett Smith, Head of Local SEO, GMB Gorilla
Form a Good Web Host
A web host is essential for any online business, as it provides important infrastructure and functionality. It also offers a wide range of features that can help businesses succeed online, such as email marketing campaigns, social media integration, and SEO services.
It is essential for any online business because it provides a solid foundation for success. In addition, it also makes a business more credible in the eyes of potential customers.
Preston Powell, CEO, Webserv
Build Your “Social Proof” Fortress
When launching a new online business, especially B2B, it’s important to build out your social proof fortress.
This includes all aspects that can make your business seem more trustworthy to customers, for example, client testimonials, logos of companies you’ve worked with, media you’re featured on, case studies of past work, content that showcases your knowledge, and links to your (active) social media profiles.
The more of these elements you have on your website, the more likely it is for a potential customer to trust your business.
Nick Zviadadze, Founder, MintSEO
Keep Your Secrets Safe
Ensure comprehensive cyber security because if you can’t keep your secrets safe, your customers will drop you overnight.
It includes your assets, such as systems (web and mobile applications, servers) that provide 24/7 access to your customers. Take independent advice to show your gaps, then assess and analyze those weaknesses to work out workarounds and improvements.
Do not rush to buy security products with the assumption that they will solve your problem. Security is an engineering issue, but less expensive than a data breach.
Harman Singh, Director, Cyphere
Create a Crystal-Clear Plan for Customer Support
Many entrepreneurs focus on developing a website, marketing their products or services, and securing payment methods, but they frequently overlook the importance of providing customer support.
Having a customer support strategy in place is critical because it helps to ensure a positive customer experience and can increase customer loyalty. It can also aid in resolving any issues that arise, saving time and resources in the long run.
A customer support plan on a checklist can help entrepreneurs consider how they will respond to customer inquiries, how they will handle customer complaints, and what tools they will use to provide support. This can include things like creating a FAQ page, setting up a customer support email, or offering live chat support on their website.
Sunny Kumar, Founder and Marketing Specialist, TheWPX
Make a Brand Kit
A brand kit is a collection of a brand’s visual and messaging elements. Usually, it comprises the brand logo, color palette, typography, and tone of voice. Businesses use brand kits to maintain a consistent marketing image and appeal to their audiences.
While the quality of your products or service is still important, having a good brand image off the bat can help you compete for online engagement. For instance, having a good, professional-looking logo and visuals on your business’s social media page drives up credibility, which can help convert sales or secure webpage visits.
You don’t even have to pay to create a brand kit. You can use free services and materials such as Canva, Pexels, and Coolors.
Jonathan Merry, Founder, Moneyzine
Research a Market Before Generating Site Traffic
Establishing how you’ll attract targeted traffic to your website should be at the top of your checklist. Most people starting out think that starting an online business is easy; you put up a website and then, “Voila,” magically people visit it.
Wrong! No one comes unless you market it. Second, they think having a lot of traffic is a good thing, but what they don’t realize is that you want traffic from people who are going to be interested in what your online site offers.
Russ Turner, Director, GallantCEO
Align Your Work With Your Values
There are a million different directions you can go in when starting an online business, but as someone who’s been in business for almost 14 years, I think the most important thing to include in a checklist is, “Does this align with my values?”
If it does, great, go for it. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a good fit for you, so pass on it—no matter how profitable it might seem. For example, my business values are “fun and freedom.”
If an opportunity doesn’t meet those criteria, I pass on it. An example of this is that I don’t have office hours listed on my website as I don’t want to commit to being available at certain hours (it might be a good ski day, and the slopes are calling me.
Once you define your business values and apply them, your online business becomes a lot more enjoyable, not to mention profitable.
Laurel Robbins, Founder, Monkeys and Mountains
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