So you want to start your own successful online business?  Unlike a brick and mortar business, the Internet provides an opportunity to be your own boss without a significant amount of start-up capital.  The Internet has been the great equalizer, leveling the playing field for go-getters and a democratic medium for entrepreneurs. Here are 10 legal and practical tips to start your successful online business.

Find a Need and Choose a Name

Most people who are just starting out make the mistake of looking for a product first, and a market second. The first step is to find out what need or solution people are having but not finding results

Visit online forums to see what questions people ask and what problems they are trying to solve. Do a keyword research to find keywords that a lot of people are searching, but for which not many sites are competing.  Check out your potential competitors by visiting their sites and taking note of what they’re doing to fill the demand. Then you can use what you’ve learned and create a product for a market that already exists — and do it better than the competition.

It’s worth taking some time to choose a unique name for your online business. Once you have a name in mind, you can conduct a Google search to see if any similarly named businesses come up.  You can also search trademarked names at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, and most states allow you to search registered business names online.  A unique name helps i) market your business; ii)  minimizes the chance that a similarly named business will accuse you of trademark infringement; iii) increases the chance that you’ll be able to get a domain name that matches your business name; iv) complies with state law requirements that corporation or LLC names be different than all other entity names registered in your state.

Business Structure and Business Formation

When you start a business, you must decide whether you’ll operate as a sole proprietorship, limited liability company or corporation.

Sole Proprietorship.  An individual or husband and wife can operate as a sole proprietorship. This is the simplest type of business structure and you don’t need to file any paperwork to set one up. However, sole proprietors have no protection from liability for the business’s debts and obligations.

Limited Liability Company or Corporation.  An LLC is generally more flexible and involves less record-keeping and reporting than a corporation. However, a corporation may be a good choice if you want to bring in money from outside investors. Owners or members of these entities are typically not personally liable for the businesses obligation.

You’ll form an LLC or corporation by filing documents (articles of incorporation or articles of organization) with the state agency that handles business filings (typically a division of the Secretary of State’s Office). You’ll also need to pay a filing fee, which varies from state to state. For most small businesses, it’s best to file formation documents in the state where you’re located. By doing this, you’ll avoid the added costs of registering to do business in your home state and hiring an out-of-state registered agent. However, if your business will have significant nationwide activity or you expect to attract venture capital, you might consider incorporating in Delaware. . Once your corporation or LLC is formed, you’ll receive a certificate confirming that your new business entity exists.

Obtain a Domain Name

As soon as you filed the organizational paperwork for your new business, register a domain name for your business. The domain name is your Internet address, typically ending in “.com.” You can check your proposed domain name’s availability by typing it into the address bar of your Internet browser and seeing if an existing website appears. Many companies offer domain name registration—you simply set up an account, identify the name you want to register and pay an annual fee.

Finances, Sales Tax and Licensing Requirements

  • EIN.  You can obtain a federal tax ID number from the Internal Revenue Service website. If you’re a sole proprietor or a single-member LLC, you can opt to use your Social Security number instead.
  • Banking and Payment Service. Open a business bank account when starting an online business and, if you’re going to be processing transactions through your website, an account with PayPal, Venmo or another online payment service.
  • Sales Tax. If you are selling things online, you’ll most likely have to collect and pay sales tax for transactions in any state where your business has a physical presence. However, procedures vary from state to state and it’s a good idea to contact your state’s taxation department and/or an accountant to find out your responsibilities.
  • Business License. You should check with your city or county to find out if you need a business license or are required to register a fictitious business name or DBA.

Write copy that sells

Sales copy takes visitors through the selling process from the moment they arrive at your site to the moment they make a purchase: 1) Define your audience; 2) Describe the problem your product solves/tell a story; 2) Establish your credibility as a solver of this problem/overcome objections; 3) Add testimonials from people who have used your product; 4) Benefit driven language/how does this benefit your customer; 3) Make an offer/a call to action; 3) A guarantee; 5) Create urgency; 6) Ask for the sale.

Throughout your copy, you need to focus on how your product or service is uniquely able solve people’s problems or make their lives better. Think like a customer and ask “What’s in it for me?

Design and build your website

Once you’ve got your market and product, and you have created your selling process, now you’re ready for your small-business web design. Remember to keep it simple. You have fewer than five seconds to grab someone’s attention. Some important tips to keep in mind: i) Choose one or two plain fonts on a white background; ii) Make your navigation clear and simple, and the same on every page; iii) Only use graphics, audio or video if they enhance your message; iv) Include an opt-in offer so you can collect e-mail addresses; v) Make it easy to buy (no more than two clicks between potential customer and checkout); vi) Make your website customer friendly; vii) Purchase web hosting, which is typically offered by the same companies that provide domain registration (hosting gives your website a place to live on the Internet); viii) If you have the budget, consider hiring a professional to help you with some or all of the website (configuring the site, creating and inserting a logo, optimizing the site for search engines; and creating text and images); 

Use search engines to drive targeted buyers to your site.

Pay-per-click (“PPC”)advertising is the easiest way to get traffic to a brand-new site. It has two advantages over waiting for the traffic to come to you organically. First, PPC ads show up on the search pages immediately, and second, PPC ads allow you to test different keywords, as well as headlines, prices and selling approaches. Not only do you get immediate traffic, but you can also use PPC ads to discover your best, highest-converting keywords. Then you can distribute the keywords throughout your site in your copy and code, which will help your rankings in the organic search results.

Establish an expert reputation for yourself

People use the Internet to find information. Provide that information for free to other sites, and you’ll see more traffic and better search engine rankings. Always include a link to your site with each piece of information: i) Give away free, expert content; ii) Create articles, videos or any other content that people will find useful; iii) Distribute content through online article directories or social media sites; iv) Include “send to a friend” links on valuable content on your website; v) Become an active expert in industry forums and social networking sites where your target market hangs out. 

Use the power of email marketing to turn visitors into buyers

When you build an opt-in list, you’re creating one of the most valuable assets of your online business. Your customers and subscribers have given you permission to send them email. That means: i) You are giving them something they’ve asked for; ii) You’re developing lifetime relationships with them; iii) The response is 100 percent measurable; iv) Email marketing is cheaper and more effective than print, TV or radio because it’s highly targeted.

Increase your income through back-end sales and upselling

People who have purchased from you once will buy from you again if you follow up with them. Closing that first sale is by far the most difficult part.  Use back-end selling and upselling to get them to buy again.  Offer products that complement their original purchase, send out electronic loyalty coupons they can redeem on their next visit, offer related products on your “Thank You” page after they purchase, and reward your customers for their loyalty and they’ll become even more loyal.