By Hua Tu

It seems easy: Make a website and sell a product or service, and voila! You have an instant online business. However, online businesses require much of the same responsibilities as traditional businesses — and they have additional requirements of their own. If you hope to make a profit on your time and financial investment, you can’t skip five must-do steps.

Find Your Shipping Service
Online shipping is at the core of most any online business. If you ship products, you’re dealing with shipping on a frequent, if not daily, basis. However, even if you’re a service-based business, you’re going to need to send out some things, like contracts or promotions. You need to find a reliable and affordable shipping service that’s convenient. In the day-to-day grind of an online business, you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied, but shipping is always important to your business’s success.

Do Market Research
Before you start any business, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a need for what your business can provide in the marketplace?
  • What type of people make up your target consumer base?
  • What products or services are already out there in the marketplace?
  • How does what you have to offer differ from what’s already out there?
  • How can you attract customers to your business?

If you can’t answer these questions, it’s not a good idea to launch your business just yet.

Make a Business Plan
After you’ve done your market research, you need to come up with a business plan. A small online business plan should consist of, at minimum:

  • Company description or executive summary of your business as a whole
  • Market analysis: All the answers to the above questions
  • Organization, or how you plan to run your business
  • Product or service line: detailed descriptions (and images if applicable) of what you’re selling
  • Marketing plan, or how you intend to get word out about your business
  • Funding request, if you hope to have investors
  • Financial projection: realistic forecast of the kinds of profits you can expect

It takes time to put together a detailed and useful business plan. If you can’t spend a few weeks or months doing your market research and drafting a business plan before launching, you may not be ready for the responsibilities of business ownership. You don’t need to draft a plan alone, though — if you hire legal assistance.

Consult an Internet Law Lawyer
Owning a small business, even if it’s just online and even if you don’t forecast record-breaking profits and think of it as more of a second job or a hobby, comes with legal responsibilities. You have to file taxes, and you’ll probably have to pay quarterly taxes throughout the year to both the federal and state governments. There are also laws and regulations that apply to online businesses small-business owners who operate primarily offline don’t have to deal with. Contact an Internet law attorney and discuss your business goals and requirements.

Hire a Professional Web Designer
Some aspects of your online business are worth an initial investment. A website is one of the most important facets of business transacted primarily online, as the U.S. Small Business Administration attests. Your website needs to be not only attractive, but fast to load, easy to navigate and safe from viruses and spyware. You may even want a website that’s smartphone and tablet-friendly.

It’s worth spending the extra money now to have a professional build your website from scratch. You don’t want to rely on templates that will get your business confused with other websites. A professional can design a website that’s uniquely yours.

Even though the advent of the Internet has provided more chances to start your own business than before, there’s more to starting an online business than simply having an idea. It’s important that you file all the proper forms and do everything you can to maximize your business’ potential to succeed, or your dream of a successful online business could wind up being forever beyond your grasp.

Hua Tu is a contributing writer and small online business owner. With his busy schedule he tries to save time by utilizing online shipping.