Complete A-to-Z Checklist for Starting an Online Business

*Note that this section applies to businesses based in the U.S. If you reside in a different country, spend some time researching what is required.

Once you have everything in development, you can think through and outline the pages your site will need and the functionality it must include. 

An experienced web designer can create a simple ecommerce site in a few days. However, you should expect the process to last several weeks or so for an average store. If you’re building something more complicated or don’t have all of your content and functionality needs organized in advance, building an ecommerce site can take a few months or longer. 

Can I start an ecommerce business with no experience?

Learn more about how to choose a domain name.

Purchase web hosting

Each of these entails a learning curve and an investment of time and money. You cannot do them all from the start. 

Are you selling a food product? Hand-crafted jewelry? Clothing? Health supplements? Customized art? It seems obvious, but you can’t start a business if you don’t know your product. 

If you’re starting a dropshipping or print on demand business, make sure your site is properly connected to a supplier and check their fulfillment capacity and turnaround times to provide realistic expectations to customers. You’ll also want to make a few test orders yourself to confirm that the product quality is what you expect. 

Now, you’ll want to create your product listings. By default, WooCommerce allows you to create:

  • Simple products (Basic products without choices)
  • Variable products (Items with options, like colors and sizes)
  • Downloadable products (Products that customers can download)
  • Virtual products (Items that aren’t physical, but aren’t downloaded, like a service)

Maybe you have an interest in your industry, or pre-existing skills that apply. Perhaps your current job, a hobby, or past experience makes you extra qualified to produce and sell your product or service. Maybe you have some real expertise in a field. For coaching and industry-authority-based businesses, this is particularly helpful. Or, maybe you just have a passion for it. 

But moreover, you need to help paint a picture of how the features of what you’re offering will benefit customers in their life, work, play, etc.

Set up a payment gateway

The good news is, you don’t need a college degree to become a successful business owner. Anyone who is willing to work, learn, take risks, and follow through can make this happen. 

Broad product categories could be tough to crack for a new ecommerce store or new online business. If you want to stand out to potential customers, look to fill a need that isn’t yet being met very well by comparable businesses. The category of “health supplements” covers tons of products. But how about immune-boosting health supplements for parents working as freelancers? 

You’ll need the EIN in order to open a business bank account, which you’ll certainly want to do, as it makes the accounting and taxes far simpler to manage. Get your EIN here

Next, how will you reach your target market? Will you primarily use digital marketing? Or will you use print or in-person marketing as well? Your target audience again will determine the answer to some degree. 

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You’ll need a variety of packaging materials to ship orders of varying quantities and fragility. See more packaging tips.

Choose shipping partners and how you’ll charge for shipping

Your ecommerce tool provides the functionality you need to list products online, accept payments, and more. WooCommerce is an excellent choice for beginners and experts alike. It’s the ecommerce leg of WordPress, a website building tool that powers 43% of the web. 

Of course, since you’re starting an ecommerce store, your website will be a key component of your business. While the specific steps you’ll want to take here will vary based on your company and the products that you’re selling, there are some commonalities that apply to most stores.

Choose a domain name

Then, use them to turn your website visitors into leads and customers. Ask them to join your email list with an opt-in form. That allows you to send email marketing messages that, again, you can choose to build yourself. 

A good plan is to work on your ecommerce or online business during your off-hours, as a side business, and build it a little bit at a time. You won’t regret the time you spend educating yourself, because in the end it will produce more knowledgeable, versatile, confident, and capable small business owners. 

As with anything, if your new business is a side project, the time you have to devote to development will limit how quickly you can launch. 

woman wearing a hat, sitting on a couch and looking at a laptop

How long does it take to launch an ecommerce website?

Your learning curve will be steeper, but as long as you’re persistent, yes it’s totally possible! 

Attend some seminars. Go to an expo or two, even if it’s not your industry. See how businesses present themselves and what they do. Learn the language. Meet people. Learn from your current job at someone else’s business — the decisions happening behind the scenes, the risks, the uncertainties, the reasons why the entrepreneur does what they do. What lessons can you apply to your own ideas? 

With WooCommerce In-Person Payments, you can even sell inventory directly at events like farmers markets or trade shows. Those sales will sync with your WooCommerce accounting and inventory numbers automatically.

Search engine optimization has the lowest cost if you do it yourself, but requires a lot of time to understand, research, and execute. But if you have the time, start writing blog posts, eBooks, guides, checklists, infographics, and other digital marketing assets. Build them around what your audience cares about. 

Don’t do this too quickly. When you look into registering your business with the secretary of state (in the United States), one of the tasks is to make sure your preferred choice isn’t already taken. Naming your business and products is also a marketing decision. 

For instance, using the previous example, many retirees may not be on TikTok, so it wouldn’t make much sense for that business to direct all of your ad spend to that platform. But a business selling makeup to teens and college students might want to strongly consider advertising on TikTok or other social media channels.

How will questions be handled? What avenues will customers have to reach out? Is there a standardized procedure you can develop to handle issues at varying scales of severity? 

Set up taxes and financial tracking

For service-based or less tangible products, you can still calculate “inventory” based on any raw goods required and your fulfillment capacity. If you’re selling a personal consultation, for example, your inventory is the number of available hours you’ll be able to work during a given time period. Don’t forget to factor in time for business management, marketing, and other unexpected tasks! 

It’s important that you take the time to outline effective and clear return policies. Create a policy that’s appropriate for your type of business, product, and customer base, and make it easily accessible on your website. For example, you might want to include it in the footer, where online shoppers can see it on every page.


Earlier, you confirmed your domain name is available. Now is the time to purchase it. This is actually another factor in naming your business, too. Ideally, the .com version of your domain name will be available for purchase, though there are other options to consider, like .org, .co, and .net depending on your needs. 

domain name search tool on

Hiring experts to help with these things can speed up the process, but requires financial resources up front.

Yes you can, but you’ll likely trade out-of-pocket expenses for speed. If you’re good at teaching yourself new things and have the motivation to do so, you can learn the basics of website architecture, copywriting, design, business structure, and marketing on your own time. 

In-person events charge fees to buy a booth. Pay-per-click (PPC) online marketing charges for each click. 

A product that sells for $500 deserves a larger marketing budget than one selling for $5. At least at first. But if the $5 item becomes a big seller, you can increase the marketing spend for that later.

Working with physical products can add a few weeks, or even a number of months, to this process. If you’re manufacturing or customizing your own products in-house, you’re only limited by the time it takes to receive raw goods and complete your projects. Working with manufacturers or other third parties adds development and shipping time to the process. 

Marketing is foundational to every business and it’s for this reason that many of the core marketing principles in this section can, and should, be developed in tandem with other aspects of this checklist. Your audience and how you want to present your business should impact everything from your company name and website to which SKUs to develop.

Define and learn about your target audience 

We’ll get to the checklist for starting an online business in a bit, but first, let’s address some questions about starting an online business. 

writing in a notebook with an orange pen

How much does it cost to start an online business?

Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Each business will have its own additional required assets. Consider the logistics of running the online business you have in mind, and add items to this online business checklist as needed.

Develop a company or brand name

If you can devote several hours per day to your new venture, knocking off items on your online business startup checklist, you can be open much sooner than you think. 

You’ll definitely want a business bank account. This is a must-have. You absolutely do not want to mix your business finances with your personal finances. To open a business bank account, you’ll need the federal tax ID (EIN) and should have your business license, too. Check with your preferred bank for the specific documentation they require.


For ecommerce businesses with products, packaging, and related requirements, startup times will be longer. Setting up the ecommerce website is really one of the last steps to opening for business. Why? Because you need to have your products and processes determined first. 

You shouldn’t have to guess at packaging solutions every time a new order comes in. Set up an organized system for locating SKUs you have in stock and what’s required to safely pack each one for delivery. This should be a documented, organized process so that you could hire someone and at any point they could come in and take over this responsibility. 

First, you must prepare and launch your website. You can save costs by doing some of this on your own by creating your own website content and building your ecommerce business on a free platform such as WooCommerce. Or, you can save time and pay a freelancer or agency to do it. 

If you made it this far, well done!

Usually, smaller orders from vendors mean lower margins. However, when you’re first starting, you may opt for this until you know which products are going to be successful and which ones don’t inspire customers in the way you expected. Once you know a product is a winner, you can make larger orders at a lower cost per unit. 

Your audience determines your product to some degree, and your product determines your audience. You must consider both at the same time.

A payment gateway allows you to securely collect payments for your items, then transfers that money to your business bank account. There are a few considerations to make here, but ultimately the gateway that you choose will depend on your business needs.

viewing payments in WooCommerce

If you’re sourcing and refining physical products, the process can take longer than you might expect. Start early with early iterations of physical products and carefully inspect the quality and detail provided by each vendor. Continue to refine your sourcing until you find the balance of cost, quality, and efficiency you’re looking for.

man reviewing inventory list in a warehouse

Whatever has led you to consider starting an online or ecommerce business, it’s going to take some work, and you’ll need guidance.

Most hosting providers offer one-click installation for WordPress, and WooCommerce includes a setup wizard that simplifies the getting started process. 

Design your website

Where is your audience? How do they shop? Where do they look for solutions to the problems your product solves? How else can you get their attention? 

woman leaning against a couch looking at a laptop

Decide on an initial marketing budget

For an ecommerce store, you’ll likely need a homepage, About page, and Contact page, alongside product category, Cart, and Checkout pages. Again, this will vary based on your business. 

Create your products

You’re here! And that means that you’re getting close to making a big life decision. You want to start an online business. It could be an ecommerce business, a service-based business, a coaching or course-based business, or something else. But the biggest question you probably have is — what do I do? To get you started, we’ve created a complete checklist for starting an online business. 

Ready to go? Get started with WooCommerce today.