(TEN EASY STEPS…)
Step One: Decide what you will sell. Will you sell services, goods that you purchase or goods that you make?
Step Two: Decide where you will sell. Will you sell on Etsy, eBay, Amazon or start a Shopify store, Bonanza, etc?
Step Three: Choose a name, preferably two words. A short name is catchy, easy to remember and will not take up too much space on the URL address line, on business cards, on other websites, or any other place it might appear.
Step Four: Perform a Domain Name search. For instance, if you like the name “Jamie’s Gems” then make sure that the web address http://jamiesgems.com is not taken. You can perform an available domain name search at GoDaddy, HostGator or Bluehost. You can always choose a .net or .us extension if .com is taken, but .com is preferred.
Next perform a URL check on all social networking sites and sites where you think you may sell your goods or services. This means checking Etsy, eBay, Amazon, Shopify, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Yelp, Google My Business, etc. for the business name that you choose. Search for “jamiesgems” and “Jamie’s Gems” on all of the sites listed above. If Jamie’s Gems is taken on any of the sites, you may want to reconsider your new business name. You get the idea… you want to own the market on your name. You want to be 100% unique and feel confident that you can make your mark consistently across all platforms.
Once you have found a name that is available virtually everywhere start by immediately signing up on every free platform that you can, then move onto the paid ones… your domain name included. A domain name runs approximately $7 – $20 for one year. You should purchase privacy for a few dollars which may get you closer to $20, but is well worth it. Overall, it should cost you less than $2 a month to own a web address. You may ask: “Why would I need a domain name if I am not going to have a personal website?” If you plan on selling through Etsy, eBay or Amazon, then you do not NEED to have a web address. But, I highly recommend that you purchase a domain name anyway. You can always point your web address to your Etsy, eBay or Amazon account. This will look more professional on business cards and marketing materials.
Congratulations, at this point you have officially established your unique presence on the internet and are well on your way to conducting electronic commerce!
Step Five: If you are selling tangible items (anything that is not a service), then you will need to sign up for a reseller’s permit. In California, where I live, this can be done at your local State Board of Equalization Office. It is important that you do this for tax purposes. I assume that you will sign up as a sole-proprietor (conducting business as one person with no employees). If you plan on having employees you may want to do a more in-depth search on your state and city business laws. You may need to register for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), rather than simply using your social security number for tax purposes. This article is geared towards a single person who wants to start a business as an individual.
Step Six: Sign up for a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) License. A Fictitious Business Name must be purchased if the business name you chose does not include your legal surname. For instance, if your name is Jaime Hernandez, then Hernandez must be a part of your business name. In the case of our example name, Jaime’s Gems, we would need to purchase a fictitious business name. In California this can be done at your local county recorder’s office. Unfortunately, there is no way to sign-up for a FBN online. You will need to go in person. In California, the fee is $42 for the initial FBN and $5 for any additional FBNs for the same business. This fee covers a 5-year period.
Step Seven: Open a Bank Account under your new business name. If you purchased an FBN most banks will need this paperwork to open a business account. If you used your last name in your new business name and you are selling services only (not tangible items), then you can go straight to the bank after securing your online presence in Step Four. Having a separate bank account from your personal account is essential to properly conducting business. It is not required by law, but is HIGHLY recommended. Often times you are also prequalified for a business credit card, though this will depend upon a credit check as will the available balance you are offered.
Step Eight: Create your marketing / branding materials. This is easier than you think. There are plenty of small online businesses (literally hundreds on Etsy) that have prepackaged templates for all your digital marketing needs… logos, business cards, banners, sale signs, vacation signs, e-mail templates, invoice templates, gift cards, thank you cards, etc. Most of them are very reasonable starting at just $20. And most will deliver instantaneously (or very quickly) through e-mail.
Step Nine: Create a template for selling your items. Creating a consistent style right from the outset is good practice. Your store will look more cohesive and hence more professional. If you are selling tangible goods you will be photographing your items for sale. Plan your photography stage. Choose a consistent backdrop and color palette. You may want to draw from colors in your logo and other marketing materials. Set a mood.
Step Ten: This is really Step Zero, because I assumed you already had a product to sell or a service to provide. If you don’t, then you should probably postpone Steps 1-9 until you have a business vision. Step Ten is simply to prepare your items or services for sale, i.e. start your listings. You will not be able to build inventory or have multiple clients lined up for your services on day one, but you should have at least one sample listing completed and listed.
Technically, at this point, you are 100% in business! You have gone through all of the formal steps to establish your business, laid the foundation for your unique online presence and have at least one item or service up for sale.