A woman in a plaid shirt stands at a small wooden table and uses a handheld scanner to scan a label on a small rectangular package. An open laptop sits next to the package. In the background is a narrow storage room with one wall lined with shelves filled with cardboard boxes. Another wall is covered with windows, beneath which is a long desk where a bearded man works at a computer.
Before you start selling your products, you have to figure out where to get them. There are many options, including partnering with a manufacturer or making the products yourself. — Getty Images/svetikd

For both new and existing small businesses, utilizing e-commerce platforms is a surefire way to expand one’s reach, leading to an increase in revenue, expanded market potential, and new opportunities. Now is a great time for businesses to develop their online stores, as the global e-commerce marketplace is continuously growing — by the end of 2023, its total is expected to hit $6.3 trillion; by 2026, that number is predicted to climb to $8.1 trillion.

Here are five steps to follow when starting your e-commerce business.

[Read more: How to Choose the Best E-Commerce Platform for Your Business]

Do your research on products and e-commerce models

The first step in starting an e-commerce store is to determine the viability of your idea. It’s important to create a product that consumers need; therefore, consider surveying consumers to determine where they feel the market is lacking, and look for existing products that you could improve upon to solve a problem.

Next, determine the kind of business model you intend to use. Models include business-to-business, which creates products or provides services for other businesses; business-to-consumer, which develops products and services for consumers; customer-to-customer, which operates as an online marketplace similar to eBay and Etsy; and customer-to-business, where individuals sell their services to businesses on websites like Fiverr and Upwork.

Understand your competition and create a business plan

Your product or service should solve a problem for consumers; by understanding your competitors and the needs of the market, you can fine-tune your offerings to cater to consumers in ways your competitors don’t. Ensure your product or service is set at an affordable price range for your target audience while offering something different from what is already available — differentiating your offerings from competitors is important to stand out in a saturated market.

Once you have finalized your idea, draft a business plan that thoroughly explains all aspects of your business, including finances, goals and objectives, marketing strategies, and your target market. The plan should include a timeline spelling out how, where, and when you plan to develop and ultimately operate your business.

[Read more: 5 Ways to Optimize Your E-Commerce Site for Mobile Shopping]

The first step in starting an e-commerce store is to determine the viability of your idea.

Source your products

There are numerous ways to source products, including creating them yourself, partnering with a manufacturer to build them for you, reselling existing products via white labeling, or using dropshipping — a type of business where, after a customer has put in an order, you purchase products from a third party who ships directly to the customer on your behalf.

A business’s sourcing method will depend on its scale. For example, many small businesses don’t have funds to invest in a lot of inventory upfront (which makes dropshipping and reselling viable options), whereas larger businesses with plenty of capital may find it easier to work with manufacturers who can do the heavy lifting for them.

Set up your brand and online store

To build your brand identity, strategically choose a name that defines your message and is simple and easy to remember. Confirm your business’s legal name, as well as its web domain name and the name’s availability across all social media channels, and ensure that it translates in markets across different cultures. Then, design a logo that fits your company’s mission and brand.

Set up an online store by either creating your own website or using an e-commerce site, which includes both open-source and all-inclusive software options depending on your tech skills and the amount of control needed over your website. You will need to register your business and obtain the proper licenses and permits before you can sell anything.

[Read more: How to Drive Traffic to Your E-Commerce Store]

Market and launch your business

Finally, get your business off the ground by marketing and launching your business via promotional campaigns. There are different ways to market your online business depending on your target audience and the products and services you provide. Determining the right type of marketing for your company will require some trial and error to see what strategies resonate with your audience and which ones aren’t worthwhile. For example, some businesses may find great success promoting their brand on social media, while others may find that running advertisements across search engines has led to increased engagement.

Regardless of how you promote your business, ensure you track its progress using key performance indicators. These indicators can help you monitor your business's success and pinpoint areas of improvement.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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