In this article, we’ll layout the steps you need to take to get your new online business up and running.
At this point, we assume you have already conducted your product/service research, performed a competitor analysis and put together a business plan – if not, this guide will point you in the right direction.
When choosing your name, it is important that you go for something unique and memorable – this will have a direct impact on how easy it is to find a domain for your website later. If you’re struggling to know where to start, have a read through our guide to choosing company names.
Remember, you want your name to be something that people can search for and remember, so try to stay away from long, complicated names, and names that are hard to spell. We’ll go into more detail on what your name means for your domain in the next section.
Your domain name is how a lot of people will find your online business. A domain name is simply your website address – e.g. www.companyaddress.co.uk
Domain names cost money, but there are a few factors that can affect the cost:
the length of the name (up to 67 characters)
how much traffic it already gets
- how easy it is to spell
Ideally, your domain name should be as close as possible to your business’s name; this is why it’s important to choose a good name in the first place! That said, your domain doesn’t need to directly reference the keywords that people use to search for your products – it’s far more important that your content relates to those keywords (more on this later). When you’ve chosen a name, an easy way to check its availability is to search it on GoDaddy.
If your ideal name is already taken, don’t worry. There are some simple tricks to make it unique without too much compromise. If your business is called Chocolate Shop, but www.chocolateshop.com is already taken, then you could try alternatives such as www.thechocolateshop.com, or if you’re based in Newcastle, maybe www.chocolateshopnewcastle.com.
There is also the option of using a domain extension, such as .holiday or .insure, which are becoming more varied and more popular all the time (have a look at this great list if you want some more ideas). If you’re making small changes like these, be aware that you could drive traffic to your competitors through your customers misspelling your name or remembering it wrong.
Even if your business is exclusively online, you need to register your business with Companies House, just as you would with an offline business. You need to do this using a UK address if you want to operate in the UK.
You can technically use your home address as your business address for the purposes of registering with Companies House. However, you should be aware that your business address will be publically listed, so you might not want your home address available for anyone to find on the internet.
Another good option for online businesses is to buy a registered office address that you can use for this registration process. This means you will have an official address with which to register your business with Companies House, but that you don’t actually have to be based there. If you want to use that address as the business address you promote to your customers, choose a service like a mail forwarding address or virtual office address, as these allow you to have your mail sent to that address too.
If you’re choosing a new address, make sure you think about what the address says about your business. It’s helpful to consider the location of your customers, as being a local business can be a good selling point, and it’s also worth considering if there are any hubs for your industry, e.g. financial services companies are often based in London, and there are lots of big tech companies in Dublin. Services like this are available from as little as £45 a year, and if you’re reading this post then you’re in the right place.
This part of the process should be fairly straightforward if you have your address sorted beforehand. You can register through the government site, but if you want more information first, you can find everything you need in our guide to registering limited companies.
The guide in the previous section will also help you out with this part of the process, but as with registering your address, you can also go directly to the government website to register your company.
Buying a domain name isn’t enough to make your site work – you need to find a hosting company. Hosting companies link your site to the internet and they store your site’s data. You need to be able to trust them because if they have any problems, your site will have problems as well.
It is also important that you choose the right hosting plan for your business. Individual, or ‘shared’, hosting is normally the right place to start for small businesses. These servers are the most limiting, often restricting bandwidth and data storage, but for small sites that won’t be a problem, and they are the cheapest option out there.
If your site gets too big for shared hosting, then it will be time to think about moving to a dedicated server, which will host your site alone. If this sounds confusing, then take a look at this in-depth guide to give you some more information.
Before your registered site can go live, you need to have something for visitors to see. Ensure that you have all the basics finished up to a high standard – a good home page, a contact page (which will look much better for having a registered address on it), an ‘about us’ page, category pages (if you’re an ecommerce site) etc.
Depending on your skills and budget, you might want to pay an agency or freelancer to help you out with this stage. There are a range of options out there for all budgets, so it’s worth doing some research to make sure you get the right arrangement for your online business.
At this point, it’s a good idea to plan your content strategy. Content is essential in getting your site ranked on search engines, and in drawing customers to your site naturally, through links throughout the internet and social media. This content shouldn’t just be about selling your products, it should be about providing people with useful information that will establish your business’s reputation within your industry. Including a blog on your site is one of the easiest ways to get a good mix of content published, and this guide to building a company blog contains some great tips on how to go about this.
8) Be Seen
When your site is ready, make sure that Google knows about it. To do this, you need to submit your URL to Google’s URL submission page. For more detail on how to go about doing this, have a look at this visual guide. Once you’ve done this, your site will soon appear on Google search results.
It’s very unlikely that your site is going to top the Google search rankings straight away; digital marketing is an ongoing process that goes way beyond the steps needed to get your site up and running. For more advice on that topic, a good place to start is our small business guide to Google.
So there you have it; . Like any business, your online business will take time, effort and resources to run, but by getting these initial steps right, you’ll be off to a good start.