6 Essential Steps to Take Before Your First Ecommerce Sale
Compared to opening a brick-and-mortar store, starting an ecommerce business seems like it should be a piece of cake.
Nonetheless, you have plenty of important boxes to check off before you can make that first ecommerce sale.
In many ways, a digital business involves just as much red tape, logistics, and paperwork (even if that paperwork isn’t on actual paper) as any other business. In fact, you’ll have some additional things to consider that traditional business owners never had to worry about.
Here’s a rundown of what you need to accomplish before you can sell anyone anything:
1. Select, register, and secure your business' name and structure
Your ecommerce business is still a business and you’ll need to act accordingly. This first step has a few mini-steps to ensure you are in accordance with the law.
First, choose your business name. We can’t do this for you: It needs to be catchy, memorable, reflect what your business does or sells (without being too on-the-nose or boring), and most importantly not already be in use by another company. Conduct a corporate name search to make sure your choice is all yours.
Going hand-in-hand with this decision is what structure your business will take. If your business is a sole proprietorship and you do business under your own legal name, you won’t need to register it.
But if you form an LLC or corporation, you’ll need to register your business with state and local authorities. You can trademark your business name, file a DBA (Doing Business As), or create an entity name. Each state has different rules for registering, so visit SBA.gov to learn more.
Finally, secure your brand by filing your domain name. Visit a standard domain name registrar like GoDaddy to buy your name, or visit ICANN.org’s WHOIS Lookup to see if a name is taken and by whom.
2. Obtain your necessary permits, licenses, and ID numbers
Even if your business is an ecommerce business, it’s still subject to the laws of the land, particularly the land in which you live and/or operate your business.
Regardless of whether you’re a sole proprietor or operating an LLC, you’ll need a federal tax ID or Employer Identification Number—a sort of Social Security Number for your business. You can do so through the IRS.
You’ll also need the same business permits or licenses, such as sales tax licenses, that you would if you had a traditional business. What is required varies by city, country, and state, so check with a lawyer or SBA.gov to find out what you’ll need.
3. Set up a business checking account
Trust us: You don’t want to mix your business and personal accounting. Not only are you often legally required to separate the two, but not doing so can get confusing and land you in trouble, legal or otherwise.
Other benefits include being able to receive payments by credit card (a must as an ecommerce business) and to eventually have the ability to delegate banking tasks.
You’ll have tons of options here. Some of the most popular choices include Bank of America, Capital One, and TD Bank. Here’s a rundown of the best currently on the market and why they were chosen, from FitSmallBusiness:
4. Create your website and platform
Have you decided how you’ll present your inventory to customers, and then get it from your page to their doorstep?
You can either create your website with an ecommerce arm, or use a third-party marketplace like Etsy or Amazon. Or you can even do both!
A good bet when first starting off is to go with a third-party platform. These websites provide plenty of resources and information in order to get started, give customers a level of trust in your nascent company, and can even handle some of your logistics such as warehouse storage.
On the other hand, building your own ecommerce site with a tool like Shopify or WooCommerce will give you a bigger slice of the overall pie when selling inventory, and gives you complete control over the selling process. Feel free to use both once you have the means to do so, or switch over to your own platform entirely once your brand and customer base has been established.
5. Invest in in the proper tools to fulfill your potential
As an ecommerce business owner, you are no doubt aware that much of your customer-facing business can be done online—i.e., you can sell your products to people over the internet.
But plenty of behind-the-scenes tasks can also be done digitally, automating your most important processes and keeping you moving in the fast-paced world of digital business.
Worried about promising a sale to someone on one platform while simultaneously selling out of available stock on another? Invest in automated inventory management software to keep your stock levels in order.
Nervous about generating leads beyond your friends and family when you get started? Invest in lead-generation tools and a great CRM to capture leads and manage your leads.
Whether your issue is in accounting, marketing, or project management, there’s undoubtedly a software for that—and it’s easier to build your company up with an eye on these issues from the jump than having to retrofit solutions for problems.
6. Formulate customer personas to inform marketing decisions
This step can be done at any point in the process, but it’s an important one. Before you start selling your products, you’ll need to figure out who you’re selling to.
Also known as client or buyer personas, customer personas are general descriptions of your target customer, such as their age range, gender, what social media platforms they like, if they’re married with children, and other demographic factors. (In a perfect world, you would sell your inventory to every human being everywhere, but that’s neither realistic nor effective when starting out.)
Once you build your persona(s), your digital marketing efforts will be better tailored and focused for effectiveness. You’ll know what kinds of marketing to materials to deploy, where to deploy them, and how best to follow up once interest has been captured.
With all of these steps done, you’re ready to start selling online. There are other things you’ll need to do to be successful, of course—decide how to best utilize email marketing, understand how to stay compliant, start your own blog, use advertising on social media—but now you can get the ball rolling and adjust as business picks up, or doesn’t.
About the Author:
Eric Goldschein is a freelance journalist and content creator who covers entrepreneurship, small business trends, emerging technologies, culture, and travel. He has written for Deloitte, Business Insider, HuffPo, and more.