So you want to start your own online business. You have a product, a service, or maybe just an idea. (You’re going to need at least one of those before you get very far.) You have the enthusiasm and passion to make some money selling your product or service on the Internet. But how and where do you begin?

online businessHere’s a quick, essential guide to getting your online business running fast. You could be making money in a matter of days!

Branding and business plan

Branding isn’t just about a slick logo or amazing design (although those things help). It’s about what you offer that the competition doesn’t. Before you get down to the technical details, take some time to sit down and decide what you stand for as a company or sole proprietor. What is your goal? What are customers going to get from your product or service?

You’ll also need a solid business plan, especially if you need starting capital. Even if you plan to start your business from nothing, you’ll most often need a business plan to register your business. If you need help, there are ways to get help making a business plan.

But really, having a great logo won’t hurt either.

Get your paperwork in order

To really get your business started, you’ll have some paperwork to fill out. It’s not particularly exciting, but it’s a necessary step.

  • Register your business with the Small Business Administration. Be sure to familiarize yourself with state regulations before completing this step.
  • Get an Employee Identification Number (EIN), if you need one. An EIN is necessary if you plan to have employees, or if you’re forming a partnership, corporation, or LLC.
  • Do you need a business license? When it comes to selling online, the answer is “maybe.” Digital goods, handcrafted items, and clothing generally don’t require a business license. You may or may not need to account for sales tax (if you sell products — there’s no sale tax on service). It may be a good idea to consult with an attorney before you pull the trigger on your business.
  • Check into local permits. Some cities or regional areas have regulations concerning keeping inventory in your home, zoning, or other concerns. Check first — it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Make an amazing website

One of the first things a potential customer will do, when they hear about you, is check out your website. Chances are good it will be the primary point of contact between you and your customers — so you’ll want to make it great. You’ll need to set up a domain name, hosting, and e-commerce software if you want to sell your products online. Fortunately, there are plenty of free or inexpensive software suites out there.

If you balk at the idea of paying a web developer thousands — or trying to learn it yourself while you get your business running — don’t fret. The Internet offers many free tools online to help you build a great website fast. Many companies offer all-in-one solutions for domain name registration, hosting, and website building.

Get your finances ready

How you’ll accept payment is every bit as important as where you’ll put the money once it’s in your hands. Before the money can flow in, you’ll want to set up a merchant account with a service like PayPal. You’ll also need a business bank account — putting money from your business directly into your personal account is a bad idea, likely to make account difficult and possibly get the attention of the IRS.

Set up social media

Now that you have a fabulous website, your paperwork in order, and your merchant accounts ready to go, you can set up your social media accounts and start interfacing with the world. Start creating compelling, shareable content on your blog and push it out via Facebook and Twitter.

Be advised that even die-hard fans of your business are unlikely to see the posts on your Facebook page unless you pay a small advertising fee — so you should probably work that into your budget. Jump into conversations, answer questions, and start building a rapport with customers.

Create some revenue streams

Once all that is finished, it’s time to start thinking about how you might make some money on the side. Will you run ads on your website? Participate in affiliate marketing? Partner up with other online businesses? A good business strategy is never static, but adapts and changes to reflect changing needs.

Thanks to the wealth of tools and information available, it’s easier than ever to start a business. Successfully starting is no guarantee of success, but the bars have been lowered for ambitious entrepreneurs worldwide.