Running an online retail business from home

Shop online buy now business concept. Red shopping cart button on the computer keyboard

Operating an E-commerce business from home is a popular option these days for people wishing to supplement their income – and can turn into a full time job for those who get it right. Here's what you need to think about if you're considering online selling as a business...

Find your niche
This is far and away the most important decision you need to make – and the thing you should be thinking longest and hardest about. You'll have your work cut out if you're trying to take on Amazon selling popular paperbacks or trying to beat Ikea for cheap modern furniture – but you might be able to use your own hobby or interests to spot an emerging and unfilled gap in the market for a particular product.

Make sure it will pay
Writing a business plan is a really good idea, even if you don't need to borrow money from a bank or other lender in order to get your enterprise off the ground. Setting out how you intend to make money and putting your projections down on paper will not only give you an indication whether your plan is viable, but will also help crystallise your ideas in your own mind.

Choose your channels
There are more viable options for the small businessperson than ever before, and you need to think carefully about how you're going to sell your products. Do you want to run your own website or would you rather just sell through one of the online giants like eBay or Amazon? Serious sellers will often use several channels, but it might be a good idea to "test the water" by getting some listings up on eBay and seeing how much demand there is.

The internet behemoths are a good choice if your product is generic enough to explain in the space of a standard listing, but if you offer a more specialist or custom product then your own website might prove a better option. There is also a middle way in the form of specialist websites which offer a marketplace for a specific type of goods – and which often attract a loyal and knowledgable client base. Examples are Discogs for record sales, Etsy for crafty items and Not On The High Street for gifts and customised clothes.

If you do want a website
If you've decided you need your own website then the first step is to secure your domain name you're after and work out how you're going to build the site. There are plenty of off-the-shelf E-commerce websites available, with Shopify being one of the most prominent providers, or you could secure the services of a web developer to build you a custom site. This will most likely be an off-the-shelf template tweaked for your own requirements, but might give you that all-important extra degree of individuality. You are unlikely to want to host your own website, so you'll need to pick a cloud-based service provider – and we'd recommend taking into account the reviews of the performance and customer service as well as the pricing before you select one.

Getting paid
You'll need a way of actually taking your customers' money – and this could be done via a simple online payments system such as PayPal (compulsory if using eBay anyway) or via an embedded checkout which allows you to take customers' credit and debit card payments. Your choice will depend on the size and scale of your business, your chosen selling medium and possibly also your target demographic.

Marketing matters
It's no good setting up the greatest e-commerce site in the world if nobody knows about it.
Getting traffic to your site can be done by a variety of means – and it's a good idea not to just rely on one anyway. Google AdWords can help attract customers by placing your site in sponsored links – which works best if you are in a relatively small or specialist marketplace.

Getting links to your site from other popular ones is a useful way to creep up the rankings organically – and it's worth looking at basic SEO principles for your own site too. However, if you're selling on online marketplaces like eBay you mainly need to make sure your listings contain popular keywords for the item you are offering. And of course make sure that your actual listing looks professional, is comprehensive and accurate and is accompanied by high-quality pictures.

Check your insurance
If you're storing stock at home then you'll need to get in touch with your insurance company and see if your policy needs to be amended. This will likely depend on the value of the stock and whether it might be considered a fire or safety risk. There is also a possibility that you may need liability or professional indemnity insurance if there is any reason that you could find yourself in court as a result of your business.

Do you run an online retail business from home? Leave your advice for others in the comments below...

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