How I Started My Online Store + Checklist

To be honest with you, I have been wanting to write this post for a really long time. However, every time I thought about sitting down and writing it became a little overwhelming thinking about everything that I would want to include. I want this post to be a resource to others who were in the same boat that I was in but at the same time, it's hard compiling years of research and many (many!) long nights brainstorming into a single blog post. I will try my best to compile everything that I know or have done over the years for my business but it is an ongoing learning process and new things need to be done regularly. If you have any specific questions after reading this post please feel free to reach out to me by leaving a comment below or by clicking the contact tab in the menu above.

Looking down at laptop keyboard and fake cactus next to it.

To start off this post, if you don't know, I started an online store in 2018 called Adorned With Delight. It is an online Christian store that sells jewelry, gifts, apparel, and more. The goal of the business is to bring delight to our customers, spread the gospel, and help those in need by donating a portion of the proceeds. What started off as a 10-item catalog has since expanded to 50+ items that range from home decor to handmade t-shirts. I have also implemented a brand ambassador and giving program since starting this business. You can see the store website here to get a more complete idea as to what the business looks like.

1. Business Plan

The first step that I took to create the business was to brainstorm what I wanted the business to look like. Specifically, I wanted to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of my business idea. This process can be formal or informal depending on the situation but for me, it looked like deciding on the following information:

    • What will the business be (offering products or services)?
    • What products will I offer?
    • What will the business name be (are there any trademarks or copyrights on the name)?
    • What are the mission and vision statements?
    • What needs will be met with this business (market analysis)?
    • Who is my target audience (audience analysis)?
    • When do I hope to launch the business?
    • How will I market the business (organic, paid, etc.)?
    • Where will I build a business presence (website, social media, etc.)?

Since the business plan is the foundation for creating the business, it is very important to take as much time as needed on it and ensure that you are setting yourself up for success. My business plan was less formal but still gave me the chance to evaluate my idea.

2. Legal Requirements

After I had brainstormed what the business would be, what I would sell, and how I would go about conducting it, the next step was one of the most important steps: setting up the business as a legal entity. I am located in Texas so the steps that I took to set my business up legally may be different from other states. I highly recommended checking the business rules and regulations for your own area before doing anything for your own business.

  1. Decide on the organizational structure - When setting up a new business, the first step is to decide how you want to legally structure it. This decision affects who will be the legal owners and has different tax, income, and liability implications. Of the four main types (sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability, and corporation), a sole proprietorship is usually ideal for a single-owner small business.
  2. Find a business address - Finding a business address was the most challenging part of setting up my business. Since every legal document required a business address, I don't have a storefront or warehouse, and I don't want my home address in the public database, I had to find a virtual business address solution. After researching different virtual office solutions, I settled on one that offered what I needed in a good location for a good price. With this address, I can receive and send mail, have a real street address for my business, and manage my mail from my phone. After setting this up, I also had to sign, notarize, and submit USPS Form 1583 in order to authorize my virtual business address to receive mail on my behalf.
  3. File a DBA/Assumed Name Certificate - For a company in Texas, you must file a DBA certificate with the county clerk in each county that the business will be conducted. This certificate asks for business information and the number of years that the business name will be used. Once I completed this certificate, paid the filing fee, and got it notarized by the county clerk, I then moved onto setting up my tax information for the business.
  4. Apply for a Texas Sales and Use Tax Permit - This permit is required when you conduct business in the state and gives you a tax ID to pay quarterly sales tax to the Texas Comptroller. You must find your business's NAICS code before applying. This permit also allows your business to purchase wholesale items for resale.
  5. Apply for an EIN - This number is used to identify the business and any tax returns and documents for the IRS.
  6. Open a business bank account - Once I researched the best, I opened a business bank account and made my first deposit. This account is used for all business withdrawals and deposits.

3. Logistics

After my business became an official legal entity, I turned my attention to setting up the logistics for how I would run the business on a daily basis. In other words, how I would set up the processes of buying and selling, communicating with customers, and organizing the business as a whole. Specifically, I focused on the following tasks:

    • Set up hosting provider - In order for my website to be hosted and accessed, I researched the best hosting provider, created an account, and tweaked my site's cPanel.
    • Purchase a website domain - I decided to purchase my website's domain separately from my hosting provider due to price and after purchasing I then had to connect my hosting provider and my domain.
    • Choose a website CMS - In order to manage my website, I researched the best content management system that was open-source, created an account, and tweaked the settings to my liking.
    • Set up e-commerce software - After my website was created, I then researched and implemented the best e-commerce software that my website would use in order to let customers place orders, let me keep track of inventory, offer shipping options, and more. The software that I chose also offers the option to purchase additional extensions for the software so I also added a few of the ones that I thought were important to have.
    • Set up payment gateway - In order to process payments for my store I had to apply for and connect a payment gateway to my website. Once I chose the one that I wanted to use I had to submit some additional identification information and set up the account to ensure PCI compliance, integrate fraud protection, and choose which payment methods my store would accept. I also ran a few sandbox trials to test the software before it went live.
    • Set up bookkeeping software - I wanted to use a financial software that was easy to use, connected to my business bank account, and offered mobile account options so once I chose the one that I wanted to use I set up account automation and added all of the transactions that I had up until that point.
    • Choose business hours - These hours would be used for customer service contact hours and would affect what hours my business's phone number, email, and social media messaging would notify me.
    • Create an email address - My website hosting provider offers free custom email addresses with my website domain so once I decided on what the email address(es) would be, I set up out-of-office automatic replies as well as forwarding capabilities to ensure that I would receive all customer service emails as soon as possible.
    • Set up phone number - I also set up a phone number for my business that would forward calls and texts to my phone. I then created a voicemail message and set the do not disturb hours that calls would be sent to voicemail.
    • Create policies/agreements - I then created different policies and agreements for the business such as return/exchange policies, privacy policy, shipping policy, and terms of service agreement.
    • Organize documents - In order to keep all business information organized and easily accessible, I took the time to set up a system for organizing paper documents and digital documents that would make it easy to find and update different things.
    • Create additional accounts - There were a few additional accounts that I wanted to set up including PayPal, an app that would track my mileage, and a file-sharing application.

4. Creative Planning

My favorite part of the entire process of setting up my business was the creative planning aspect. At this time I began thinking about how I wanted my brand to look and feel to customers and how I would create a unified brand experience. I created a branding kit that included:

    • Logos - The main logo, submark, wordmark, and favicon.
    • Colors - The six colors that I would use throughout my business and their respective hex codes.
    • Fonts - The decorative font and a simple sans font for reading.
    • Mood board - I curated different images and ideas to create a mood board for my business. This mood board was made to pinpoint the aesthetic that I wanted and served as inspiration.
    • Business cards - I designed and created business cards that are included in all orders and include business contact information.
    • Stickers - I also designed and created stickers that were based on my brand's submark that are added to every package.
    • Website design - The bulk of this part of the process was focused on my website design. I chose a theme that would help provide a baseline for the website design and coded my own customizations to make it my own. I created and designed the different web pages that I would need and added my chosen colors and fonts. I also set up an "under construction" landing page that people would see if they came across my website while I was still working on it.

5. Product Sourcing

At this point, I began the search to find the wholesale items that I would be selling. This process took a while to curate the products that I wanted and find the best options.

    • Find wholesalers - Since wholesalers are only open to retailers and not the general public I had to research and find the wholesalers that I wanted to buy from that offered good deals, good products, and small order minimums since I was just starting out.
    • Open accounts - Most of the time you have to create an account with wholesalers to see their catalog and order products so I created accounts with each one.
    • Curate product line - Then came time for the fun part which was curating the product line. I decided what items I wanted to carry in the store and specifics such as colors and quantities.
    • Place orders - I placed my first order for the items that I had chosen.

6. Implementation

Now was the time to implement everything that I had gathered, into the business and put everything together on the website.

    • Brainstorm product names - I found it fun to use interesting product names for my listings so once I brainstormed what each item would be named and created each SKU, I added them all to a spreadsheet for organization and then added them to the website by creating the item listing.
    • Write product descriptions - I then wrote each product description and added them to each listing.
    • Decide product pricing - On another spreadsheet, I decided on my product pricing by calculating my desired profit based on the cost of goods and overhead.
    • Upselling/cross-selling - My e-commerce software gives me the opportunity to connect my product listings for cross-selling and upselling recommendations to customers so I linked each product to similar items.
    • Take pictures - I created a makeshift studio and took images of each product showcasing details.
    • Edit/upload images - Then, I edited the photos to show the correct colors and uploaded them to each product listing.
    • Measure products - In order to accurately display shipping options for each product and give customers the product size information, I had to input the dimensions for each item.
    • Decide product categories - After all of my product listings were up and running I then organized them all with tags and categories and added the menus to my website to easily find different items.
    • Choose featured products - I chose a few items to be featured on the homepage of the website.
    • Set up shipping options - I decided on what shipping options I wanted to offer to customers and set them up to automatically create shipping labels and receive wholesale postage pricing when shipping an order.
    • Create website pages - This process also took a while as I finished up the website. I created different pages for customers to learn more about the business by creating About Us, Contact, FAQs, Careers, Staff, Blog, Shipping, and Returns pages to the footer of my website.
    • Purchase shipping material - In order to ship a purchased item, I bought shipping materials such as poly mailers, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, boxes, and tape.
    • Choose launch date - I could finally decide on the launch date for the business since I had completed the majority of necessary tasks. This date helped me plan my marketing tactics.

7. Marketing

To begin the process of getting the word out about the business, I finally focused my efforts on marketing.

    • Draft a marketing plan - I decided how I would market my business, what tactics I would use to do so, and created a schedule for marketing.
    • Social media - I decided on which social media platform I would utilize for the business and set up each account with intriguing profile pictures and bios that matched the aesthetic of the brand. I then began posting to gain brand excitement for the upcoming launch.
    • Create content - I created graphics for the website and social media, blog posts, and copy for different marketing channels.
    • Set up email marketing - I researched the best email marketing provider, set up an account, and created different workflow emails (such as welcome and unsubscribe emails), designed sign-up forms, and added them to my website and social media.
    • Set up Google Business - I created a Google Business profile with all my business details such as contact information, a description, and linked my products.
    • Utilize SEO strategies - I implemented different SEO strategies on my website and product listings such as keywords, related keywords, cornerstone content, XML sitemaps, a product index, slugs, meta descriptions, and more.
    • Use PR strategies - Lastly, I used PR strategies such as writing news releases to spread the word about the business.

Up until the launch date I continued tweaking different aspects of the business and ensured that no problems would occur on launch day. I continued spreading the word about the upcoming launch via social media and word-of-mouth and even reached out to a few brands and individuals for possible collaborations. Launch day arrived and the rest is history. Since then I have periodically made edits to the website, added new products, sent out marking emails, updated social media channels, and have even started a few programs such as our Giving Program in which we donate a portion of all sales and our Brand Ambassador Program in which we recruit individuals who love the brand to join the team and help us spread the word about what we are doing. I have loved every minute of this entire experience, I am so thankful for the opportunity to start this business especially at a young age, and I can't wait to see what is in store for the future.

Have you ever wanted to start a business? Do you have any specific questions about the process?

Submark for My Life As Madalyn.



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