There’s a big learning curve involved with starting an online business. Taking the time to make sure key pieces are in place before you launch can save you a lot of headache. Here are three steps to take before you launch.


Build your website with change in mind


Instead of hiring a developer, many business owners today are opting for a DIY website solution. For online businesses, which tend to evolve more frequently than brick-and-mortar businesses, the flexibility and control that a DIY website offers can be a major advantage.


There are lots of popular website platforms to choose from, like Squarespace, Wix, and Databox recently surveyed content marketers to find out which platform was the most popular, and came out on top by a significant margin. (Not to be confused with, is the self-hosted version of the WordPress blogging platform.) is a good choice for building your business website for several reasons:


1) WordPress has a thriving community. According to W3Techs, 34% of all websites are powered by WordPress. (These include brands like Mercedes-Benz,, and The Walt Disney Company.) Because of its huge popularity, many online tutorials and services cater to WordPress users.


2) What sets WordPress apart from other platforms are software extensions called plugins, which let you add features like opt-in forms and social sharing buttons to your site. Using a page builder plugin like the Divi Builder, you can basically add any functionality to any page on your site without the need to hire a developer.


3) A final benefit of using the self-hosted version of WordPress is that you own your content. If you go with a hosted website builder service, you’re subject to their terms of service. They can limit functionality, restrict advertising, or shut down your site as they fit. Your website is your greatest asset as an online business owner, so it’s important that you have full control over it right from the beginning.


Self-hosting a WordPress website isn’t as technical or expensive as it sounds. You’ll need to register a domain and pay a monthly fee (around $10 or less) for web hosting. There are plenty of online tutorials to help you with WordPress’ Famous 5-Minute Installation process.


Avoid expensive disasters with a well-written service agreement


In the world of online business, it’s harder to hold flaky clients accountable. They can simply ghost you when it’s time to pay up.


Here are some policies to consider writing into your service agreement before you launch:


  • Upfront deposit. The best way to protect yourself from non-paying clients is with an upfront payment policy. For many service businesses, it’s standard to ask for 50% (or sometimes even 100%) up front.


  • Late payments. Incentivize clients to pay on time with a late payment policy. For example, you might charge a late fee of 5% of the project cost (accruing or not) for each month that payment is overdue.


  • What happens if a client wants to cancel a project that you’ve already started? Consider writing a kill fee into your contract – for example, you could charge a flat fee or percentage of the project total, or you could bill for the work you’ve already completed. Your kill fee could also be the upfront deposit.


  • Make it clear in your contract whether you offer refunds for products or services and under what circumstances.


  • Scope creep and ongoing projects. How will you charge for work that exceeds the scope of the original contract? For ongoing projects that are more complex, I tell clients we’ll revisit the rate at a specific date.


Maximize leads with the right mode of contact


Many successful online brands don’t showcase a phone number on their websites, choosing instead to use a contact form or email address (or both). If you are available to answer the phone, though, displaying a phone number can help you generate more leads. In my experience, a lot of potential clients still like to pick up the phone and talk to a real person.


If your customers are primarily local, then displaying a phone number with a local area code can help increase trust. But if you have a lot of international clients, a toll-free number is your best bet. I use a mobile app called iPlum that lets you add a second line (Canada, US, or toll-free) to your mobile phone.


If you use an online contact form, you can reduce friction by requiring your visitors to fill out fewer form fields. If your online business is like most, a name and email address might be all the information you need to collect from visitors. However, if you’re a B2B business, adding certain fields can be a good way to pre-qualify prospects and weed out tire kickers. For example, you might ask visitors to enter their title and company domain and select a monthly budget from a dropdown list.


Even if you have a webform on your contact page, it’s a good idea to display your company email address on every page of your site. I like to use a floating bar with my phone number and email so my contact info is always showing, no matter what landing page visitors enter my site from. If you’re using WordPress, it’s easy to add a floating bar using a plugin like Thrive Leads or something similar. Otherwise, you can ask your developer to set one up for you.


These are just a few considerations you’ll need to make while setting up your online business. If you need help developing a business plan, here’s a crash course to get you off on the right foot.



Author bio


Chloe Brittain is the owner of Opal Transcription Calgary, an audio transcription company serving businesses and professionals in the corporate, media, academic, and entertainment industries. She also writes about kitchen décor for Calgary-based cabinet refinishing company Not Just Paint. Chloe has contributed to several blogs in the business and tech space, including TechSmith, Lucidpress, and Business Link.


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