How to start a small business online

What business is right for you?

Before you start a business make sure the business you’re trying to start suits your skills, experience and budget. It’s important before you start a business to either have experience in the industry or be willing to put in the time to learn.

Starting a business requires an incredible amount of time so try to find something you enjoy doing if you can. At the very least make sure you understand why you’re starting a business. It could be because you’re sick of your 9-5 job or you want to travel. It’s really important the reason why you want to start a business is clear and important to you. It will help to keep you motivated during the numerous mundane tasks you will be required to complete.

If it is your first business it’s better to try something which doesn’t require a lot of investment. First businesses have a high failure rate so it’s better to start as small as possible and then scale up after you start selling.

Branding

One of the first things you’ll need to do is decide on a business name and logo. In general this is a difficult part but try not to spend too much time on this step. Once the business concept is proved in the marketplace the name and logo can be changed at any time.

When deciding on a name it is almost impossible to get a good .com as most are taken. If you are just a local business in Ireland a .ie is far easier to find. Also, if you are trading under a different name to your own you’ll also need to make sure that name hasn’t already been registered with the CRO. You can use their search page to check. You can register a business name through core.ie for a cost of €20.

Next is your logo. I would recommend outsourcing this abroad as some graphic designers here can charge a high fee. When trying to get your logo designed you should have a clear idea of what it should look like. Also providing examples of other logos you like and why will help the designer greatly.

Website & Payments

For your first website I would recommend using wordpress along with a predesigned template. The important principle is to keep your costs as low as possible in the beginning until you start making a profit. If you do seek advice, always ask a trusted source. Never seek genuine advice from someone trying to sell you a service.

WordPress and the templates available can be used for a range of businesses. If you are providing professional services or you are selling products online. It does take a bit of time to set up. You will also need to have a hosting package. I would recommend SiteGround. I did use Blacknight in the past but I found my website running very slow and have now started moving bigger websites to SiteGround. Their fees start at £5.99 per month.

You will also need an SSL cert to encrypt information flowing between your website and visitors. You can buy one for namecheap.com for $5-$6 per year. Please note, while in general SiteGround is a better hosting company it was a nightmare trying to set up a third party SSL cert compared to Blacknight. 

I would recommend using stripe to accept payments but there are alternatives available such as Paypal. I found their interface easy to use and it was easy to complete all of the compliance steps required. 

You will need to hire a developer to complete all of these steps if you have no IT background. If you have the time there are 100s of videos available on youtube to walk you through each of the steps. The cost of hiring a developer will vary depending on the type of website you want. You can hire someone locally through gumtree.ie or freelancer.com from around the world. I would estimate the fee to be between €500 – €1,000.

Getting your website found & Credibility

One of the biggest misunderstandings I have encountered is people think once the website is set up people will find it. Building the website is the easy part, getting people to find it is the most difficult part. It’s better to spend the least amount of money as possible on your website and the rest on marketing. There are so many websites online competing for attention. You need to be very clever in how you make people aware of your existence. 

If you are considering running ads on facebook or google start off with small experiments first. Spend no more than €10 – €20 on testing ads and see what works. It’s very easy to burn through cash marketing your business to people who have zero interest in it. With facebook you can track a customer from a facebook ad right up until they make a purchase. So you can calculate if I spend €x on ads on facebook I will make €y in revenue. 

It’s really important to try to establish credibility on your website. As you are a new business no one will have heard of you and you will have no established trust. One of the best ways to build credibility is through customer video reviews. The majority of people don’t want to be on camera so they are very difficult to get. You should try as much as possible to get genuine customer video reviews on your website. This will help build trust and credibility with potential customers who visit your website.

Social media

Social media can be a great tool to help your website get found as well as building credibility. Having a facebook page can allow you to create a following and engage with your customers. You can also offer your loyal followers discounts and discounts for their friends. 

You can also use social media to engage with those who already have a following similar to your target audience. Offering them your products/service as a prize or at a discount for their followers can help raise your brand awareness in a cost effective manner.

Social media also gives people an opportunity to share their experience with your company. They can write a review or share pictures which everyone in their network will see. 

Legal & Finance

Generally if you’re just starting it’s better to be a sole trader. We’ve written an article on the advantages and disadvantages of a sole trader v a limited company. As mentioned above, if you are trading under a name which is different to your own you need to register that name with the CRO. It is your responsibility to ensure the name isn’t already registered. The CRO will not do this for you. You only need to register for VAT once you’ve reached certain sales thresholds. 

Please be aware there are many grants available for startups and to help you with the cost of your online business. For example, there is an innovation voucher worth €5,000 and there is also a grant which contributes toward the cost of getting online. This grant is for €2,500 and covers 90% of the cost of getting online.

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