How to Start an Online Boutique (Step-by-Step Guide)

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I’ve gotten so many questions from girls and aspiring boutique owners about how to start an online boutique. “Where do I begin? What do I need to do before I can start buying clothes? How did you know where to start?”

The most important piece of advice I can give is do your research. I researched for months before I took direct steps to starting my business for several reasons. 1) I wanted to be sure I actually wanted to do this. If you’re going to do it, you need to be ready to go all in. 2) You should be aware of everything you need to do in order to open an online store prior to taking the steps to do so. You could register as a business only to find out that you don’t have the storage space for inventory or you don’t know how to design a website or you won’t be able to afford all that goes into owning an online store (inventory, website, packaging supplies, high quality camera, full size garment steamer, just to name a few). 3) Lastly, I had to accept the fact that I could fail. This was probably the scariest thought – not only because failing is scary in general, but mostly because I felt like I would really be putting myself out there and if I failed than everyone would see. But then I realized – if you don’t care what other people think, then it doesn’t matter nearly as much! Sure, you can fail, but the worst thing that can happen from that is that you go back to working a different job.

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If you’ve surpassed the three steps above, then you’re ready to start taking the steps to create your online store. I did so much research to make sure I knew all of the proper legal steps I had to take to start my own business. I was super appreciative to the people and resources that provided thorough information, so I hope this blog post can be one of those resources for you. Below is a step-by-step guide that must be completed before you can jump into purchasing and acquiring any clothes, shoes, accessories for your online boutique.

1. Choose business name. This is super important because you need to have a business name before you are able to progress to the next steps. Think about this for at least a few days because once you go on to the next steps, it becomes more difficult to go back and change it. Think about something that will be catchy, memorable and easy to spell – you’ll often be telling people about it by word of mouth and you want them to remember. Once you think of a name, be sure to run a search in government databases to check that your name is original. This may vary from state to state, but in Texas you have to run a state-wide search to make sure no other company in Texas already has the same name. It’s also a good idea to check to make sure both the domain name (website address) and social media handles (at least Instagram and Facebook) are available! If they are all already taken, it might be best to think of another name. You’ll want your website to be similar to your social media handles.

2. Purchase domain name. Once you’ve decided what you want your store to be called (and have checked availability for the website name and social media handles), you should purchase your domain name. A great place to do this is GoDaddy. I did this prior to completing the following steps because I wanted to secure ownership of the domain name and be sure I had all of the rights to it before proceeding. This will cost money, but it should be a small fee for 1-2 years. This is also a good time to create social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook (it’s free!). You don’t have to use them right away, but you’ll be happy you have them (particularly the name that you want) once you are ready to use them.

3. Register as a small business with the IRS. Go here to do this and fill out the form to obtain an EIN (Employee Identification Number). This is a tax number that the government uses to categorize your business and properly tax your business. You’ll need this in order to identify as a small business and buy any clothing or goods from wholesalers. 

4.  File an Assumed Business Name with the County Clerk. Again, this might vary depending on your state, but I had to fill out a form (which I found online) called ‘Assumed Name Certificate for Unincorporated Persons’ (same as DBA). I followed this checklist I found online, which was incredibly helpful! They might have a similar checklist for your state, too.

5. Apply for your state Sales & Use Tax Permit. This number is required if you plan to buy wholesale. Before you can purchase anything from wholesale distributors, you will need this number and a copy of the certificate. This also enables you to buy at wholesale prices (without paying tax) and resell to customers with tax. This application is dependent on which state you live in, so do a google search with your state’s name to find the correct form.

6. Open Business Bank Account. This isn’t a required step, however I think it is beneficial. It will help you keep your business finances separate from your personal finances and will help you keep better track of everything you’re spending, along with your income/profit. You’ll need to have completed steps #1 and #4 in order to do this, and you’ll need to bring proof to show the bank teller – this can be provided in the documents that were sent or given to you by the IRS (with your EIN number) and by the county clerk (assumed business name certificate). 

Truth be told, completing all of these initial steps to start a business was much easier than expected. After I had finished the above list, I thought to myself, “Wow, seems like anyone can start their own business.” But the hard part is what comes next – finalizing a business plan, coming up with a marketing strategy, researching, finding and procuring your product, and filling in for every position for your new company (CEO, CFO, social media strategist, web developer, photographer, the list goes on). I won’t lie and say that it’s easy, because it’s not. But it’s definitely rewarding to see your dream come to life and know that you started it all on your own. I’m still a long way from where I want to be and I have a lot to learn, but I’m along for the ride.

I hope you find this list helpful! If you have any questions about these steps, ask away. I hope to post more helpful blog posts about starting and owning an online boutique, so let me know if this was interesting or helpful to you and I’ll work on other posts that you might find helpful.

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