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20 Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE Starting an Online Business

Starting a new online business is a commitment as well as an opportunity.  And, while most of us may be familiar with the nuances of starting a ‘brick-and-mortar- business, getting ready to go online with a new business venture offers different challenges.  This is especially true if it is totally new and not an extension of an existing business.  The following twenty questions will hopefully give some insight and offer food for thought for those contemplating an online business.  (Note:  We’re still planning on setting up an eBay store – but as yet haven’t made the move.)

1.  Will I sell a product or offer a service?

Due diligence – before beginning any endeavor, it is a good idea to do some homework. For an internet business, you’ll need to investigate the many different avenues available – and which program is best. These decisions will be based on whether you plan on selling products or offering services.

2.  Should I have a business plan?

 Yes.  Write a business plan for the first six months or year including your profit goals. This plan should include how to finance the business, if financing is required; how to maintain an inventory, list of services offered; how the business is to be run; and the legalese that goes with having an internet web site, i.e., Terms of Use, Privacy, Disclaimers, and list any special requirements associated with your specific business. This might be return or refund policies, any expectations you may have of the customer regarding payment, or what you will and will not do for your set fees. Do not be shy about being specific.

3.  Will I need to collect taxes?

Each state, county and city are different.  Understand your local, state, and federal tax processes as well as local regulations for running a business. Do you need to make application for a tax certificate? Will you need a DBA (Doing Business As) certificate for setting up various accounts? Are there any permits required?

4.  Can I keep my SS number safe?

Get an EIN (Employee Identification Number) to use in lieu of your Social Security Number.  Get more information on getting an EIN number at this link. 

5.  Will I be able to keep up with the work by myself?

Begin with one business. Don’t overload yourself. Work out the kinks with the first business and then expand. Stay focused.

6.  How should I present my business?

Decide which type of presence you want on the Internet. Which will work best for your application. Word Press Blog? Traditional web site? Know the drawbacks and limitations of each. Can you manage either of these without help or will you have to pay someone? If so, can the start-up business afford this expense?

7.  What if I want to use eBay or Amazon for selling?

If you’ve chosen an online presence for selling, i.e., eBay or Amazon, understand their guidelines. Read their Terms of Use and follow them.

8.  What about my inventory?

For selling, do you have existing inventory or do you need to find a product. Some existing businesses offer a ‘drop ship’ affiliate option, where you set up your site, offer their product, and once an order is received, it is shipped directly from the manufacturer to the purchaser. You get a percentage a the sale.

9.  Can I offer services other than to my local area?

For service businesses, have prices set with guidelines and limitations for each service provided. Will your services be available and provided locally or can you provide your service via the internet. In both cases, know your competition and be willing and able to compete in price and services.

10.  Do I have all the equipment I need to run my business?

Have necessary equipment available. This might include computers, digital cameras, fax machines, printers, shipping and packing supplies.

11.  Do I know the different ways to advertise on the Internet?

Advertising – like a brick-and-mortar business, advertising is always good. There are some sites that allow you to advertise for free, or you can use social networking, i.e., Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Join forums and engage in conversation or write relevant articles that direct readers back to your websites.

12.  What if I need help?

Have any business support services in place or ready to go if needed. This included banking and shipping – maybe even part-time contract help for computer work.

13.  Do I have to have a credit card system set up for charges?

Consider how you will receive payment. Credit card payments can be accepted through PayPal but if you plan on accepting personal checks, Money Orders or Cashiers Checks, you’ll need to address the delivery of goods/services based on receipt of payment. Never send out any product without full payment.

14.  Is a business bank account necessary?

Not necessarily.  You may want to have one if you plan to apply for financing, set up an account with a manufacturer or have your own stand alone credit card provider. Investigate your bank’s requirements for a business account as well as the associated fees and other costs.

15.  What if I need to order inventory?

Inventory control is important, especially if you have unique items. If you offer new items, how quickly can you get re-supplied. Are there minimums? Can you mix products to meet the minimum?

16.  Will I make money right away?

Probably not. Have enough money in the bank to allow you time to wait on sales. Building an Internet business is not an overnight program. Anyone or any program that promises thousands of dollars your first week up should be closely looked at.

17.  Why do I need to answer every email?

Always maintain a good customer relationship. Answer any email if only to say, “Got your email, we’re investigating the issue” or “we’ll get back to you as soon as we can”. Confirm receipt or orders, advise shipment date, and if there is a problem, let the customer know. Most people are very understanding and willing to work with you IF you communicate.

18.  When should I expand my business?

Once you get going, have a plan to re-invest and expand. This may be as simple as offering new items on your existing site or expanding to a new domain website with a complimentary product that ties in with your current offerings.

19.  Do I need to keep accounting records?

Yes. Keep good records and accurate files of all transactions, purchases, expenses, relevant emails, etc. This will help you determine what is profitable and what is not. Tracking numbers are a good way to follow sales.

20.  What about smart phone exposure?

Phones seem to be the new computer, so take your business mobile. This might be in the form of a .mobi site or an app for the ‘smart’ phone. If you can do this yourself, that’s great. If not, you may need to look for help when you reach this point.

On looking back at this list, seems like question No. 16 should have been No. 1 because if you are thinking you’re going to make lots of money quick and are turned off  by the fact that you probably won’t, then  the rest of the questions are moot.  But with time, hard work, dedication and some business sense, you can build a good internet business that should serve you well for many years.

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