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Starting a business that operates exclusively online can be an appealing way to earn a part-time or full-time income. It comes with the freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere you choose.

If you have a business idea for selling products or services online, below are considerations to keep in mind and the steps to take to get it up and running. But first, here are some answers to common questions we often hear from potential online business owners.

Is It Easy to Start an Online Business?

In today’s digital world, anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit, regardless of their professional background, can start a business that operates online and eventually scale it. All you need is an idea for a product or service that fulfills a consumer or business need, plans for manufacturing or sourcing products (if the business is product-based), and a viable sales model and marketing strategy to attract potential customers. 

Depending on your business model, you may not need a formal business plan. Still, when starting any type of business, it’s always best to prepare a roadmap that details your startup costs and all the steps you need to take before its launch.

Can You Start an Online Business on a Budget?

Yes, you can start many online businesses with relatively small upfront costs. These costs typically include purchasing a domain name, a website builder, and content creation for your site. If you are selling physical products, you’ll need to buy inventory, consider fulfillment costs, and more. But if you start small, such as launching only one product to begin and then scaling with more product launches as revenue starts rolling in, then it is feasible to start an online business on a limited budget.

Do You Have to Register a Business if It’s Online?

If you’re based in Oregon, if and how you need to register your online business depends on the legal structure you choose. The most common legal structures for small businesses are a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited liability company (LLC), and a corporation. Each provides different levels of liability protection and tax and financial benefits. So you should speak with an accountant and an attorney before choosing your business’s legal structure.

Partnerships and sole proprietorships often use the business owners’ names. If you want to operate under a different name, you’ll need to register an Assumed Business Name with the state. Corporations and LLCs are required to register with the state. The form can be filed on the Oregon Secretary of State website or mailed to the State’s Corporation Division with a filing fee.

If you decide to use an assumed business name or register as a corporation or an LLC, your business name must be different from all other names already filed with the Oregon Secretary of State. You can do a quick business name search here. It’s also a good idea to conduct a trademark search at the federal and state levels.

You can find additional information on how to register your business in Oregon here.

Types of Online Businesses

The type of online business you choose may depend on your professional background, skills, or even personal hobbies and interests. However, all online business models are either service-based or product-based and can range from a part-time freelance gig to a full-time hustle with hefty profits.

Whether you’ll be selling products or services, below is what you’ll need to get started.

How to Start an Online Product-Based Business

When it comes to products—whether physical or digital—as long as there’s a demand for them, you can sell them online. But before investing in inventory, you’ll want to determine the product’s viability, its target market, the competitive landscape, possible profit margins, and much more.


Once you’ve set your sights on a specific product niche, you’ll need to build your online store and select an ecommerce platform, which provides features for shopping cart software, payment processing, security, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), and more. Popular ecommerce shopping platforms for small businesses include Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, and others.

If you’re just getting started with selling one product, you can consider selling on another platform that supports sales without having to pay overhead expenses. With high-traffic marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, you pay a fee per sale. Many of these shopping sites also offer merchants pay-per-click advertising and other marketing services to help drive customers to your products.


If storing inventory and shipping orders is too much to handle on your own, drop-shipping could be a better solution. Drop-shipping is an online fulfillment method for when a customer orders a product online. You forward the order to your manufacturer, wholesaler, or another retailer, who then ships the product directly to the customer.

Not only does drop-shipping save you the time and hassle of having to store inventory and ship each order on your own, but it is also a low-risk way to see how well your products sell without having to purchase a large amount of inventory upfront. This is why drop-shipping is an attractive option for many ecommerce business owners.

Affiliate marketing

Starting an affiliate marketing business is another way to sell products online, but without all the expenses that come with manufacturing and selling your own products. To be an affiliate marketer, you would select other brands’ products, sign up for their affiliate programs, promote those products to your own audience, and then receive a commission for each sale generated through your referral links.

You can promote affiliate products by creating blog posts with keywords that people are searching or through your social media. You can also promote affiliate products through email marketing if you’ve built up a subscriber list. Affiliate marketing comes with a low startup cost. However, to operate this type of business, you’ll still need a domain name, web hosting, email marketing software, and other marketing services to reach and expand your audience.

How to Start an Online Service-Based Business

Many services geared toward consumers or businesses can be provided remotely and marketed online. And when selling a service, you can cut out the inventory and fulfillment costs that come with selling products.

Starting an online business that sells a service can be a fast, easy, and fantastic way to earn money. The only downside with a service-based business is that you are selling your time. So that means your earning potential is limited by the hours you can commit each day to providing professional services.

Whether you’re a marketing consultant, career coach, copywriter, web designer, SEO specialist, virtual assistant, app developer, or you offer any other type of service that can be done online, there are several platforms where you can market yourself to potential clients and search for work within your area of expertise. Such sites include Upwork, Fiverr, 99Designs, Freelancer.com, LinkedIn, and more.

To attract customers, it’s a good idea to have a website that showcases examples of your work and client testimonials. Platforms like Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix are great web hosting options for a professional portfolio and are affordable, too.

5 Tips for Starting an Online Business

Below are additional tips for turning your online business ideas into a profitable, successful online business.

Tip #1: Identify your target market.

Who would want what you’re selling, and where and how can you reach these individuals? Having a clear understanding of your target audience, including their demographics, wants, needs, struggles, purchasing behavior, and more is essential for generating sales.

Tip #2: Solve a problem.

All businesses solve a problem, and the bigger the problem, the more people are willing to pay. For instance, healthcare and legal services solve serious problems, which is why doctors and lawyers make such a good living. What problem will your business fix? And how much money would others be willing to pay for the solution it provides?

Tip #3: Assess your competition.

Perform a competitive analysis to help define your business’s branding, messaging, and strategies. See what competitors in your same niche are doing so you can do it better. Read their customer reviews to discover the pain points so you can make your products superior and provide greater value. Give customers a reason to purchase your goods over your competitors’. And, even better, give them a reason to pay more.

Tip #4: Pick your payment method.

It’s not a business if you’re not collecting payments, right? If you are selling products online, you can use Google Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal, Shopify Payments (if using Shopify for your ecommerce site), or other online payment options. For a service business, consider using Bill, PayPal, Stripe, and others. Determine a payment schedule based on whether you invoice clients daily, weekly, or monthly.

Tip #5: Make the most of your marketing.

Of course, marketing is a must to attract customers. You can do it through social media, direct outreach, paid advertising, influencer marketing, and more. Be sure to pick the marketing tactics that make the most sense for your business and your budget. 

Anyone can launch an online business. But to make the startup process go smoothly and for it to become profitable, it’s essential that you do your research, plan ahead, and make the best decisions before launch. For more tips on how to start a business in Oregon, click here.

The Oregon SBDC Network is here to help you start and grow your business. Find your closest SBDC to access the resources you need to help with starting your online business by visiting OregonSBDC.org.

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