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1. What kind of online business is most profitable?

How to start an online business: A step-by-step guide [2024]

Updated Jan 15 2024

In the past, entrepreneurs who wanted to learn how to start an online business had to take an in-person or online course, research new technologies, and build websites from scratch. Today, setting up a business online is far more accessible, often requiring only a few simple steps. If you have an online business idea, there has never been a better time to implement it. In 2021, ecommerce business sales accounted for almost 19% of all retail sales worldwide, and experts project that more than 5.29 billion users will shop online by 2027.

Online business owners can tap into global customer bases, target their sales to a particular niche, and build a unique brand. In this article, we'll delve into the process of creating an internet business that allows you to pursue your professional ambitions and start making sales.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • A successful ecommerce business provides an excellent opportunity for profit.

  • The essential steps to starting an online business involve product selection, business registration, and marketing.

  • Your brand identity and business plan help focus your online business ideas.

  • A print on demand business model allows you to open an online store while minimizing risk and start-up costs.

What kind of online business is most profitable?

Many online businesses cater to different types of customers. A brick-and-mortar business might use product-based online businesses to sell items also available in their physical business locations. However, many modern small business owners sell their items and services exclusively online through ecommerce.

Revenue in the ecommerce market is projected to reach more than $8.1 trillion by 2026, with new online stores emerging daily. Whether you want to start aprint on demand business, service-based business, ecommerce store, or some combination of all three, following a careful process for starting an online business will increase the likelihood that you will make money and find growth opportunities. In this guide, you'll discover all the necessary steps to start an effective ecommerce business.

How to start an online business step-by-step

Although anyone can become a small business owner by hastily setting up an online store, a lack of preparation will lead to disaster in most cases. Instead, before you officially open your business online, you can walk through this series of steps to ensure that you're meeting your customers' needs, following legal requirements, and setting yourself apart from competitors.

1. Choose a business niche

business niche

When determining a business niche, there are a few essential points to consider, the first of which is your own hobbies and interests. Operating a successful online business requires a thorough understanding of your products. When you sell products you feel passionate about, it's easier to have a firm grasp of all their features and benefits.

Market research is also essential. Using social media platforms and tools like Google Trends, investigate whether the products you want to offer are in demand by customers. Although research won't tell you exactly how much online shopping is occurring in your niche, it should give you a better idea of whether your planned products have the potential for sales.

In addition to conducting market research, you should also develop an understanding of your target audience. To get a grasp on your potential customer base, think about their characteristics, including:

  • Interests

  • Pain points

  • Ages

  • Demographics

  • Locations

  • Buying habits

These details will help you to develop a customer profile that, in turn, helps you to determine which products might become best sellers.

2. Determine your product offering

product offering

Establishing your niche is only one part of the decision-making process. You'll then need to narrow your product offerings to items in demand. Popular products include:

You can take it further by deciding where to focus your initial sales. For example, if you sell women's clothing, consider whether you want to target customers looking for sportswear, work clothes, or both.

When creating an ecommerce website, you can source and create these products yourself or use print on demand companies to take care of it for you.

3. Create a brand identity

brand identity

Online shoppers have many businesses to choose from, and it's essential to distinguish yourself from the competition. Start by outlining your goals, values, and mission. Think about what's most important to you and how you want your online business to be perceived by the public. This will help inform your overall messaging and branding strategy.

If you're not sure how to create your brand identity, try following these tips:

  • Give it a name: Customers should be able to connect your business name with the products you sell online. Create a meaningful name that's catchy, easy to remember, and relevant to your niche.

  • Design a logo: Your logo should be memorable and visually pleasing to give customers a positive impression of your brand. Design your own sleek logo or work with a graphic designer who can build off of your ideas.

  • Tell your story: Let your customers know your business's background, goals, and values with a brand story. Establish a genuine emotional connection by explaining how you can help customers address their pain points.

  • Select a style: The color scheme and typeface on your ecommerce site and all of your digital marketing materials should coordinate. Choose two or three colors and fonts that align with your brand to keep your style clean and consistent.

You'll be able to use the concepts you've created repeatedly on your professional website, social media sites, and custom products, eliminating significant legwork down the line.

4. Build a business plan

business plan

A comprehensive plan helps you remain focused on the goals and purpose of your business. Write down the following points so that you can refer back to them in the future:

  • A description of your business and the products you offer

  • The details of your target audience

  • How you will make a profit and earn money online

  • How you plan to grow in the future

  • Marketing tools and strategies

  • Financial plans and projections

  • Any tasks or duties that you will outsource

When your plan is complete, you can store it safely and periodically revisit it to make changes and updates based on developments in the market.

5. Register your business

To make your online business official, it's essential to register it with any necessary government agencies. The registration process differs depending on which type of business you decide to establish. Common options include:

  • Limited liability company (LLC)

  • Limited liability partnership (LLP)

  • General partnership

  • Sole proprietorship

  • Corporation

When you apply for a business license, look closely at the requirements for your location and register for taxes in every state where you will sell your products. You will need an employer identification number (EIN) as part of your sales tax license. Lastly, consider registering your trademark. This prevents other companies from infringing on your brand and protects you from potential trademark lawsuits.

6. Choose a selling platform

selling platform

Getting your business up and running online requires choosing a sales platform. Your primary choices are:

  • Your own website through a hosting service

  • Ecommerce platforms

  • Online marketplaces

Many small business owners new to online sales opt to use pre-existing platforms rather than setting up their own websites because they're more affordable and don't require advanced web development skills. There are several points of distinction between ecommerce platforms and online marketplaces. Ecommerce sites are typically more customizable and involve higher initial set-up costs, while marketplaces have built-in customer bases but limited options for personalization.

7. Configure your online store

Regardless of which sales platform you select, you'll need to customize it as much as possible. Remember all of these essential tasks as you work through the process:

  • Create an account and choose a domain name that customers are likely to remember and spell correctly

  • Add brand-specific colors, fonts, and logos to your storefront

  • Develop a clear return, refund, and cancelation policy

  • Price your products, accounting for the expense of creating or sourcing them, how much your competitors charge, and your desired profit margin

  • Configure payment and shipping options based on what payment types you plan to accept and where you will ship your products

Remember that customization options may be limited if you're using a marketplace.

8. Launch and promote your business

You're almost ready to open the virtual doors to your business, but there are a few final things to do. It's essential for any small business online to make a great first impression by having all of the essentials in place before launch day, including:

  • Adding your products to your store

  • Writing exciting and detailed product descriptions that describe each product's size, quality, and material

  • Developing optimized product titles with relevant keywords so that customer searches lead them directly to your site

  • Using search engine optimization strategies to improve your ranking and visibility on search engines

  • Adding sign-up links to your business website and social media accounts so that you can build an email list

  • Reaching out to your target market with email marketing that shares product news, promotions, and discount codes

  • Using social media marketing, including free and paid ads, to promote products and your business to your local circle and a wider audience

  • Establishing a program that provides commissions to any affiliate marketer who shares information about your company and products

With all the infrastructure in place, the time has arrived to open your online business and sell products online.

Starting a print on demand online business

A print on demand business model may be a good solution when you have an online business idea but need more financial capital to make it a reality. Print on demand partners allow online entrepreneurs to make sales with minimal upfront costs and risks, and getting started is faster and easier than you might expect.

1. Select a print on demand service

Many print on demand suppliers are available, but not all of them will meet the needs and goals of your business. Before selecting a partner, consider factors such as:

  • Customer service

  • Product selection and variety

  • Product quality

  • Sustainability

  • Shipping times, locations, and rates

Gelato is an example of a print on demand service that prioritizes sustainable, high-quality products at reasonable prices.

2. Choose and design your products

Once you've found the right print on demand partner, you can begin the process of selecting and designing your products. Look for items that fit into your niche and that allow for customization, including:

If you have artistic abilities, create unique designs relevant to your brand, or commission a professional graphic designer to create custom artwork. Whether you make the designs yourself or hire someone else to do them, make sure to avoid using too many colors, fonts, and design elements, which result in cluttered and confusing graphics. Instead, prioritize cohesion and complementation that matches your brand's overall aesthetic. Once you have an idea for your designs, create mock-ups using design software or Gelato's Design Editor tool.

To ensure your designs look as good in person as they do on the screen, order samples of different items and evaluate whether you need to make any changes. If you're satisfied with the final products, take high-quality photos for your product listings and add them to your store. Just like that, you're ready to sell items through your own online business.

Scale your successful online business with Gelato

Starting an online business might sound intimidating, but it can be a simple process. By establishing a business structure, selecting a niche, writing a business plan, and consulting with outside experts like graphic designers and tax professionals, you will soon be on your way to running a successful online business. Print on demand suppliers make it even easier to open an online store without risking your life savings.

With local on-demand production and a wide array of personalized products, Gelato is an ideal partner to help you start an online business. Turn your dreams of an online store into reality by creating a business with Gelato. By following the proper steps, you'll be ready to sell custom products online to customers from all over the globe.


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