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E-commerce offers a wide range of opportunities for your business, including increased revenues, growth in new markets, and greater brand loyalty. To help you navigate the process, including how to get set up to accept payments online once you’re up and running, we have streamlined the steps involved in setting up your online business. 

1. Ensure you have a legal entity 

Before you can trade online, it is essential to have a legal entity. You can register your company and obtain a company registration number from Companies House or a Company Formation Agent. This process usually starts from around £20 and can be arranged on the same day if requested. 

2. Set up a business bank account 

To handle funds from your online trading account, you will need to set up a business bank account. Visit your chosen bank to establish this account, where all cleared funds from your online trading account will be deposited. 

3. Prepare a business plan 

To ensure that you have a clear vision for your business you need to create a plan that details who your company is, what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it. You may not have prepared a business plan before but it should be fairly straightforward – after all, you are the expert and know your business better than anyone else. 

You’ll need to consider: 

  • Who are you? 
  • What are you selling? 
  • Who is behind you (financial backing)? 
  • What is your previous experience in the industry? 
  • Where are you headed, and what are your future plans for your company? 
  • How are you going to get there? 
  • Who is your target market? 
  • How will you market yourselves? 
  • What are your sales forecasts (annually and/or monthly)? 

4. Prepare a customer support plan 

Customer support is essential for the success of any online business. Develop a detailed plan for addressing customer queries or issues and establish clear service levels to manage customer expectations. For example, you can specify that all customer email queries will be answered within 48 hours. 

5. Provide terms and conditions for your business 

When creating your business's Terms and Conditions, it is crucial to ensure that you have a comprehensive set of policies in place. These policies will help protect both your business and your customers. While every business model is unique, there are certain elements that should be included in your Terms and Conditions. Here is a checklist of what you should consider: 

  • Refund/Cancellation Policy: Regardless of whether you sell tangible goods or not, it is important to have a clear refund/cancellation policy in place. This policy should outline the circumstances under which refunds or cancellations are allowed, as well as any associated fees or conditions. 
  • Shipping Policy: If you sell tangible goods and offer shipping, your Terms and Conditions should include a shipping policy. This policy should cover important details such as shipping methods, delivery times, and any exportation restrictions that may apply. 
  • Privacy Policy: Your business must have a privacy policy that outlines how you collect, use, disclose, and manage your customer's data. This policy should address important topics such as the types of information collected, how it is stored and protected, and whether any third parties have access to this information. 
  • Terms of Use: Your Terms and Conditions should include a section that outlines the rules and guidelines for using your website or mobile application. This section should cover topics such as prohibited activities, intellectual property rights, and user responsibilities. 
  • Dispute Resolution: It is advisable to include a section in your Terms and Conditions that outlines the process for resolving disputes between your business and customers. This section can include information on mediation, arbitration, or any other methods you prefer to use. 
  • Limitations of Liability: To protect your business from potential legal claims, it is important to include a section that limits your liability for any damages or losses incurred by customers. This section should clearly state the extent of your responsibility and any exclusions or limitations that may apply 

6. Select your Domain Name 

Put simply, a domain name is the web address that you direct your customers to. A domain name not only gives you credibility but if selected carefully it can help drive increased traffic to your site. 

Entering the term ‘Domain Name’ into a search engine will provide you with many domain name providers to choose from. 

Registering a domain name can cost anywhere from £3 - £25 depending on the type you require. Generally a is cheaper than a .com. You will be required to renew this every year (although some domain name providers allow you to buy longer licenses). 

Registering for a domain name is almost instantaneous and can be set up in 24 hours if requested. 

7. Select your hosting provider 

A reliable hosting provider will make your website accessible to the internet. Look for reputable hosting providers by conducting an online search. Web hosting is generally affordable and may even be offered for free if you purchase a package that includes a domain name, hosting, and a web shop. 

8. Set up your website 

Your website is a vital selling tool, so it is essential to get it right. Consider working with a web developer to create a bespoke website tailored to your specific needs. Alternatively, you can opt for a web shop, which is a pre-built website that can be customized with your brand, color scheme, and products. An e-commerce solution offers a quick setup, ease of use, and cost-effectiveness. 

9. Ensure website compliance 

To process online payments, your company website needs to undergo a compliance check. Although the rules of compliance can differ depending on your business model, we have supplied a general checklist for you to consider when setting up your site: 

  • Your company name and address must be clearly displayed 
  • Contact address (email or phone number) 
  • Terms and conditions 
  • Display your company policy covering refunds, returns and cancellations 
  • Details of your shipping policy or other conditions (if applicable) on the website (including any exportation restrictions) 
  • Minimum customer service standards 
  • State on your website that cardholders can expect a response to email and telephone enquiries within a maximum of 48 hours 
  • Product listings, descriptions and prices 
  • Display an accurate description and pricing (including currency) for all goods and services which are available to purchase on your website 
  • Display appropriate card scheme logos including Visa, MasterCard and any other payment schemes that you accept 

10. Organise an Internet Merchant Account 

In order to accept payments online you will need an Internet Merchant Account facility. This is different to your business bank account, as it is used specifically for online trading.  

To set up your Internet Merchant Account you can speak to a Payment Service Provider or your bank. But you’ll need to provide some basic information: 

  • Company registration number and where your company is registered  
  • Your business bank account details (account number, sort code, IBAN, swift code etc) 
  • A copy of your business plan if you are a newly established business with less than 6 months trading history. 
  • If you are an established business, just a description of your business, including details on the company structure, the business model and sector 
  • Background information on your Company Director(s), including a brief career history 
  • Details on your customer response plan 
  • Your terms and conditions 
  • Who your domain and hosting providers are 
  • To make the process even faster and more efficient, include copies of personal documentation 

It is standard practice to provide valid, unexpired, notarised proof of ID such as your passport or drivers licence, as well as notarised proof of address such as a bank statement or utility bill. 

11. Define payment requirements

Decide how you would like your customers to make purchases. Will you accept payments through the web, over the phone, or a combination of both? Consider alternative payment methods, such as online cash payments or PayPal, in addition to processing card payments. 

12. Get PCI Compliant – (What’s that)?

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance is necessary for businesses that store, process, or transmit cardholder details.  

If your online business processes fewer than one million transactions annually, you must use a PCI DSS certified provider or provide certification of your own PCI DSS compliance to your acquiring bank. Many payment providers are already PCI DSS compliant, providing you with a secure processing environment. 

By following these steps, you can effectively set up your online business as an e-commerce merchant. Payment processing software is essential for setting up an e-commerce business or trading online. It enables businesses to accept online payments securely, integrates with e-commerce platforms, ensures compliance, provides valuable insights, streamlines operations, supports international payments, and enhances the customer experience.  

As a payment processing software provider, we are here to assist you throughout the process and ensure a smooth and successful launch of your online business. Get in touch today to find out more. 

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