One of the biggest roadblocks to starting a new business in Toronto is the upfront costs involved with opening a store or even securing office space. With today’s online economy, though, those expenses can be eliminated by opening an E-Commerce Site. These online sites provide you with a great virtual storefront that doesn’t come with a price-per-square-foot. It also allows you to market your products to people across Canada, North America, or even the world. You may actually be able to bring in many more customers and make a larger profit by going with an E-Commerce site instead of a traditional storefront.
The biggest question most people have is simply “how to I get started with an E-Commerce site?” It may look like a large project at first, but selling online is actually pretty straightforward.
Become an Official Business
It can be tempting to try to skip over registering your online business with the city of Toronto, but you absolutely need to do so. First, it’s illegal to operate a business that’s not registered. Yes, you will have to collect and pay taxes, including the harmonized sales tax if your revenue exceeds a specific amount, but being a registered business protects you from a number of issues, including lawsuits from unhappy customers. Becomes a registered business is fairly simple, and City of Toronto even has a small business department (Enterprise Toronto) to help you.
For some businesses, you also need to apply for specific licenses. These businesses include any that sell food or anything else that could impact the health of a customer.
If you were operating a brick and mortar store, this would be all you need to do. However, because you’re selling online, it’s very likely that you will have customers from other provinces. In this case, you may need to actually register in those provinces as well. This is one of the areas where things can get tricky, so you should speak to a knowledgeable expert such as an accountant or lawyer. Doing this paperwork may take time and get frustrating, but the legal protections it gives you (not to mention the fines you can avoid if caught operating unregistered) is well worth it.
Learn About Other Provinces’ Regulations
In addition to potentially registering in these other provinces, you do need to do a little research. Look at the different Consumer Protection Acts—each territory and province have their own, and they do have differences. Knowing how these acts protect customers and what regulations you need to comply with is vital to operating a successful E-Commerce site.
Also take the time to learn about anti-spam laws that govern emailing customers and potential customers. Email can be a vital part of an online business’s marketing plan, but you want to make certain you’re following all of the rules and that your customers always have the option to unsubscribe.
Write a Detailed Terms and Conditions Statement
In a store, the terms and conditions of a sale are fairly simple. Online, however, that’s not always the case. You want to have a very detailed terms and conditions statement that includes the price, the accepted methods of payment, the shipping and handling charges, and your refund/exchange policy. This needs to be easy to find on your website. After writing this statement, you may want to have an attorney review it to make certain it provides the legal protections you need. There are a number of online templates you can use to get started with this statement.
Prepare a Marketing Plan
With a traditional storefront, you can often count on some customers walking by the store, being intrigued by what you offer, and coming in to shop. Online, though, that very rarely happens. No one is going to stumble upon your website on their own. That’s why your online marketing plan is absolutely vital to your success.
This plan needs to include several different strategies. First, you’ll have your SEO or search engine optimization. This is what gets your site returned as a result in searches done on Google and on other search engines. It includes determining the keywords necessary to get your site ranked highly as well as meta tags and other descriptions. You can learn about SEO online, or you can hire an expert to help you with your website.
Another component of your marketing plan is social media. Social media marketing using Facebook, Twitter, and other sites have become very important for online and even offline businesses. You can create profiles on these sites for free and share your website link and other information. The most important part of social media is that you post regularly. This doesn’t always mean that you need to post every day, but you do need to keep your profiles active. This is another area where you may want to reach out to an expert.
Don’t disregard traditional offline marketing methods, either. While your store may be online-only, that doesn’t mean business cards, flyers, and even mailers can’t help bring in business. You may even want to consider setting up at a local fair, trade show, or other event and handing out information about your website.
Create a WordPress Site with WooCommerce
Now that you’ve got your business registered and have a marketing plan, you need to create your website. The reason you may want to wait to do this until you have a marketing plan ready is so you can take the time to think through your branding, which includes your logo, your color scheme, your name, and the names of your products. These decisions can all impact what your website looks like.
The easiest way to create an E-Commerce website in Toronto is to sit down with a WordPress expert. WordPress is a very flexible platform that can be used for websites, blogs, E-Commerce stores, and more. One of the best plugins for an E-Commerce site is WooCommerce. This plugin is more than just a shopping cart—it helps you with inventory management, reporting, and more.
By using WordPress and WooCommerce to create your E-Commerce website, you will have a single platform that brings your E-Commerce site together with your blog and other online elements. It’s also an incredibly easy to use platform that can be maintained, updated, and even changed without a lot of extra work. Once you have a WordPress site up and running, you’re ready to launch your Toronto E-Commerce business.