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How to apply for the coronavirus Bounce Back Loan Scheme?

Bounce back load
Bounce back loan

The government has announced a package of support to help small businesses through the coronavirus pandemic. This includes the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) – here’s how to apply.

What is the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS)?

After some businesses struggled to access credit through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), the Chancellor announced a new Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).

The main difference between the BBLS and the CBILS is that the government guarantees 100 per cent of the finance, plus you can only access a maximum of £50,000.

The BBLS went live on 4 May 2020 and had already received 100,000 applications by the end of the day, according to the Financial Times. They also reported that the average loan is around £30,000.

Like the CBILS, the BBLS is operated through the British Business Bank and its accredited lenders. Through the BBLS:

  • you can access between £2,000 and up to 25 per cent of your turnover (maximum of £50,000)
  • the government guarantees 100 per cent of the finance to the lender
  • the government pays the first 12 months of interest
  • you don’t need to make any repayments for 12 months
  • interest is capped at 2.5 per cent
  • the loan term is six years, but you can make early repayments without being penalised

How to apply for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS)

1. Am I eligible for the BBLS?

Your business needs to:

  • be based in the UK
  • have been operating before 1 March 2020
  • have been negatively impacted by coronavirus
  • make 50 per cent of its income from trading activity
  • not have been a ‘business in difficulty’ on 31 December 2019
  • not already be claiming under the CBILS (although you can transfer loans of up to £50,000 under the CBILS to the BBLS until 4 November 2020)
  • not be bankrupt, in liquidation, or restructuring debts at the time of application

You’ll have to self-certify that your business is eligible as part of the application.

2. Approach your lender

Lenders taking part in the scheme include Barclays, HSBC and Natwest – the British Business Bank has a full list of accredited partners.

You should approach your current bank for finance. While there isn’t anything stopping you from going elsewhere if they can’t give you finance, the Financial Times reports that out of the 10 lenders taking part on day one, only HSBC was offering non-customers a loan.

The British Business Bank also mentions that high demand for the BBLS means that your lender’s phone lines will be busy, so keep this in mind when applying.

Mike Cherry, Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said the application process can vary from lender to lender: “Some have submitted their short application forms with no trouble at all, others have been told to wait for forms to arrive, and some have struggled to make an application due to site failures.”

3. Complete self-certification

When you apply for a loan, you’ll need to self-certify that you’re eligible for the BBLS based on the criteria above. If your business is eligible, the British Business Bank says the application will be “subject to appropriate customer fraud, Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) checks”.

4. Your lender will make a decision

Your lender will decide whether to offer you finance. Unlike the CBILS, your lender can’t ask for a personal guarantee and the loans are guaranteed 100 per cent by the government.

While they can’t take recovery action on the primary vehicle or main home of sole traders or members of partnerships, your lender could go after other personal assets.

The government guarantees 100 per cent of the loan but your business is still liable for all of the debt and repayments.

And if your bank turns you down, you can still apply with a different lender.

This article is intended as a guide only. Before making any decisions on borrowing money, you should seek independent financial advice.

If you’re thinking of applying for a Bounce Back Loan, our partners at Swoop may be able to help. Swoop can help simplify and speed up the application process so that you can get access to the finance that’s right for you. Visit Swoop’s website and enter a few key details about your business to get started.

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Self-employment and Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a monthly payment to help with your living costs. You may be able to get it if you’re on a low income or out of work.

Providing information about your earnings

Everyone claiming Universal Credit needs to report their self-employed earnings at the end of each monthly assessment period. This includes company directors, even those paying themselves by PAYE.

You’ll need to report payments into and out of your business in the assessment period. This includes:

  • total amount your business received
  • how much your business spent on different types of expenses, such as travel costs, stock, equipment and tools, clothing and office costs
  • how much tax and National Insurance you paid
  • any money you paid into a pension

What type of work counts for Universal Credit

All work is taken into consideration for Universal Credit. If you’re expected to look for and be available for work, then it needs to be identified whether you’re ‘gainfully self-employed’.

Gainful self-employment means that:

  • your main employment is self-employment
  • you have self-employed earnings
  • your work is organised, developed, regular and in expectation of profit

You must provide evidence about your business and earnings to your work coach, for example, your:

  • tax returns, accounts and any business plan
  • Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR), if you’re registered for Self Assessment
  • customer and supplier lists, receipts and invoices
  • marketing materials

If you’re gainfully self-employed you’re exempt from job search responsibilities and can concentrate on growing your business and earnings.

If you’re not gainfully self-employed, you’ll need to look for other work. You still have to report any earnings from your self-employment. You can ask to be reassessed in the future.

How your Universal Credit payment is worked out

If you’re gainfully self-employed, your Universal Credit payment may be calculated using an assumed level of earnings, called a Minimum Income Floor.

It’s based on what an employed person on minimum wage would expect to earn in similar circumstances.

If you earn more than this, then your Universal Credit amount is based on your actual earnings.

If you earn less, the Minimum Income Floor is used to work out how much you can get. You may need to look for additional work to top up your income.

If you’re both self-employed and employed

Your Universal Credit payment will be worked out using your combined earnings or any applicable Minimum Income Floor, whichever is higher.

If you’re newly self-employed

If you’re within 12 months of starting your business, you may be eligible for a start-up period of up to 12 months.

During your start-up period your monthly earnings are used to work out your Universal Credit and the Minimum Income Floor doesn’t apply. You’ll also receive support from a work coach who’s trained to work with the self-employed.

You’ll need to attend quarterly appointments with your Work Coach, providing evidence to show that you’re still gainfully self-employed and actively taking steps to build your business.

You’re only entitled to one start-up period unless it has been more than 5 years since your previous one, and you’ve started a completely different type of self-employment.

Reporting changes in your circumstances

You’ll need to report any change in circumstances, for example, if you:

  • close your business
  • start a different kind of business
  • take a permanent job
  • are no longer able to work

Depending on the change, your gainful self-employment may need to be reassessed.


You may be able to get Universal Credit if:

  • you’re on a low income or out of work
  • you’re 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you’re 16 to 17)
  • you’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
  • you and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you
  • you live in the UK
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COVID-19: support for businesses

The Chancellor has set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19.

This includes a package of measures to support businesses including:

  • a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • a Statutory Sick Pay relief package for SMEs
  • a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England
  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank
  • a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.


All UK businesses are eligible.

How to access the scheme

You will need to:

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

If your business needs short term cash flow support, you may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

Support for businesses through deferring VAT and Income Tax payments

We will support businesses by deferring Valued Added Tax (VAT) payments for 3 months. If you’re self-employed, Income Tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021.


For VAT, the deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.


All UK businesses are eligible.

How to access the scheme

This is an automatic offer with no applications required. Businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period. Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020 to 2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.

Income Tax

For Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until the 31 January 2021.


If you are self-employed you are eligible.

How to access the scheme

This is an automatic offer with no applications required.

No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.

HMRC have also scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of Covid-19 and have outstanding tax liabilities.

Support for businesses who are paying sick pay to employees

We will bring forward legislation to allow small-and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • this refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19
  • employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible – the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
  • employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
  • employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website
  • eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of SSP to those staying at home comes into force
  • the government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible


You are eligible for the scheme if:

  • your business is UK based
  • your business is small or medium-sized and employs fewer than 250 employees as of 28 February 2020

How to access the scheme

A rebate scheme is being developed. Further details will be provided in due course once the legalisation has passed.

Support for businesses that pay business rates

Business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses

We will introduce a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.


You are eligible for the business rates holiday if:

  • your business is based in England
  • your business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • for assembly and leisure
  • as hotels, guest & boarding premises and self-catering accommodation

How to access the scheme

There is no action for you. This will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020. However, local authorities may have to reissue your bill automatically to exclude the business rate charge. They will do this as soon as possible.

You can estimate the business rate charge you will no longer have to pay this year using the business rates calculator.

Further guidance for local authorities is available in the expanded retail discount guidance.

Cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses

The Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme provides businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a cash grant of up to £25,000 per property.

For businesses in these sectors with a rateable value of under £15,000, they will receive a grant of £10,000.

For businesses in these sectors with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000, they will receive a grant of £25,000.


You are eligible for the grant if:

  • your business is based in England
  • your business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • for assembly and leisure
  • as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation

How to access the scheme

You do not need to do anything. Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant.

Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly.

Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs and grants should be directed to the relevant local authority.

Find your local authority.

Support for businesses that pay little or no business rates

The government will provide additional Small Business Grant Scheme funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief. This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs.


You are eligible if:

  • your business is based in England
  • you are a small business and already receive SBBR and/or RRR
  • you are a business that occupies a property

How to access the scheme

You do not need to do anything. Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant.

Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly.

Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs and grants should be directed to the relevant local authority.

Find your local authority.

Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will launch early next week to support primarily small and medium-sized businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts.

The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £5 million in value.

Businesses can access the first 12 months of that finance interest free, as the government will cover the first 12 months of interest payments.


You are eligible for the scheme if:

  • your business is UK based, with a turnover of no more than £45 million per year
  • your business meets the other British Business Bank eligibility criteria

How to access the scheme

The full rules of the Scheme and the list of accredited lenders is available on the British Business Bank website. All the major banks will offer the Scheme once it has launched. There are 40 accredited providers in all.

You should talk to your bank or finance provider (not the British Business Bank) as soon as possible and discuss your business plan with them. This will help your finance provider to act quickly once the Scheme has launched. If you have an existing loan with monthly repayments you may want to ask for a repayment holiday to help with cash flow.

The scheme will be available from early next week commencing 23 March.

Support for larger firms through the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility

Under the new Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility, the Bank of England will buy short term debt from larger companies.

This will support your company if it has been affected by a short-term funding squeeze, and allow you to finance your short-term liabilities.

It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.


All UK businesses are eligible.

How to access the scheme

The scheme will be available early in the week beginning 23 March 2020.

We will provide information on how to access the scheme here shortly.

More information is available from the Bank of England.

Support for businesses paying tax: Time to Pay service

All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service.

These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.


You are eligible if your business:

  • pays tax to the UK government
  • has outstanding tax liabilities

How to access the scheme

If you have missed a tax payment or you might miss your next payment due to COVID-19, please call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559.

If you’re worried about a future payment, please call us nearer the time.


Businesses that have cover for both pandemics and government-ordered closure should be covered, as the government and insurance industry confirmed on 17 March 2020 that advice to avoid pubs, theatres etc is sufficient to make a claim as long as all other terms and conditions are met.

Insurance policies differ significantly, so businesses are encouraged to check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers. Most businesses are unlikely to be covered, as standard business interruption insurance policies are dependent on damage to property and will exclude pandemics.

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Tax Deadlines

Business tax deadlines

As a business owner, you need to meet a range of important tax deadlines throughout the year. We have compiled a list of some of the most important, to help make sure you meet your obligations.

Please note that all of these deadlines may be subject to change. Similarly, if they fall on non-working days payment may be required on the last working day before the deadline. (This article is relevan for 2018)

Self Assessment

31 October. If you intend to file your tax return on paper, you need to do so by 31 October. The only exceptions to this are for taxpayers who received their Notice to File after 31 July, and those who have been specifically told by HMRC that they are not allowed to file online.

30 December. If you owe less than £3,000 and you want HMRC to collect it through your tax code, you must file your tax return online by 30 December.

31 January. However, if you intend to file your tax return online, you must do so by midnight on 31 January. Remember that you will need a Government Gateway login and password to do this, and these can take up to 10 days to arrive – so make sure you apply well in advance if you are filing online for the first time.

You will also need to make your first payment on account on January 31. This will usually be equal to 50 per cent of your tax liability for the tax year just gone, and will go towards next year’s tax bill.

6 April. The start of the new tax year. You can expect to receive a paper tax return shortly after this date if HM Revenue and Customs believe that you need to complete a Self Assessment.

31 July. After that, you will be required to make your second payment on account by this date.

Corporation Tax Deadlines

Starting up. If you start an active (as opposed to dormant) company, you must inform HMRC within three months. You can do this by completing form CT41G. You will normally receive this form along with the information pack that HMRC sends out to companies newly registered with Companies House.

If you start a dormant company, you should tell HMRC as soon as possible in order to avoid being treated as an active company.

Payment deadlines for taxable profits of £1.5 million or less. You will be required to pay your Corporation Tax bill by the date nine months and one day after the end of your Corporation Tax accounting period if your taxable profits are £1.5 million or less. This date is known as the normal due date.

Payment deadlines for taxable profits of more than £1.5 million. You will normally have to pay your Corporation Tax in four instalments if your total taxable profits exceed £1.5 million. You should contact HM Revenue and Customs for more information.

Filing your Company Tax Return. You must file your Company Tax Return within 12 months of the end of your company’s accounting period, in other words the ‘statutory filing date’. It is therefore important to understand that you will be required to pay your Corporation Tax before you file your return – unlike Self Assessment, where payment is normally due on the same date as the filing deadline.


Filing your VAT return on paper. This is one of the tax deadlines which have been phased out for most businesses. You must file your return online unless your business is subject to an insolvency procedure, you object to using computers on religious grounds, or you can’t file online because of your age, a disability, or because you live in an area without internet access.

Filing your VAT return online. The tax deadlines for online filing will normally be one month and seven days after the end of your VAT accounting period. There are numerous exceptions to this; for example, firms using the VAT Annual Accounting Scheme do not qualify for the seven day extension.

Paying your VAT bill. You will normally be required to pay your VAT bill on the same day it is due. Remember that you must pay using an electronic method if you file online.

If you use the VAT Annual Accounting Scheme. Firms that use the VAT Annual Accounting Scheme file just one return a year, two months after the end of their accounting period, and pay their bill in instalments.

If you make monthly payments these are due at the end of the 4th through 12th months of your accounting year, meaning you make nine payments. If you make quarterly payments these are due at the end of the 4th, 7th and 10th months of your accounting year, meaning you make three payments.

A balancing payment is then due, along with your return, two months after the end of your VAT accounting period.

PAYE and National Insurance Contributions

Monthly PAYE and Class 1 NIC payments. When you are paying PAYE and Class 1 NICs monthly by an electronic method, payment must reach HMRC by 22nd of each month. If you are paying quarterly, you must pay by the 22nd after the end of the relevant quarter. If you are paying by cheque, payment must reach HMRC by 19th of each month.

Quarterly PAYE and Class 1 NIC Payments. You may be able to pay quarterly if you pay less than £1,500 a month. You should contact HMRC to find out whether you are eligible.

Class 1A NIC payments. In case you are paying Class 1A NICs by electronic methods, payment must reach HMRC by 22 July. If you are paying by post, payment must reach HMRC by 19 July.

If you have any question regarding tax deadlines, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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tax return

How to fill in your Self Assessment tax return

If you’re self-employed, whether you run a business or work as a freelancer, you’ll usually need to fill in a Self Assessment tax return each year.

What tax do small businesses need to pay?

Depending on the particulars of your business, there may be a number of types of tax you need to pay. These are some of the most common:

  • Income tax through your Self Assessment
  • Corporation Tax
  • VAT

Am I responsible for my business’s tax payments?

You are considered self-employed (and therefore responsible for filing a Self Assessment tax return) if you:

  • are making decisions about how the business is run
  • are responsible for meeting losses as well as profits
  • can hire someone on your own terms to work for you
  • decide what work to do, how you do it and where to provide the services
  • regularly work for other people
  • complete unsatisfactory work in your own time and at your own expense

There are different rules if you work through an agency, if you’re a company director or if you’re the secretary of a club or holder of another office, but most sole traders will be responsible for their business tax.

If you’re unsure about your employment status, check out the guide on

How does the Self Assessment process work for small businesses?

Once you’ve determined whether or not you need to register for Self Assessment and file a tax return, the process is largely the same whether you’re a freelancer, contractor, sole trader or business owner.

Registering for Self Assessment

To register for Self Assessment, you need to visit the registration page and submit your details. If your business is run as a limited company or a limited liability partnerhsip, the process is slightly different. And you will need to register here.

After the registration you’re then able to file your tax return. You do this by filling out the Self Assessment tax return form either online or on paper. However, the government’s Making Tax Digital initiative may mean small businesses can no longer file paper tax returns in future.

Tax return deadlines

At the moment, the deadline for submitting your tax return is October for paper tax returns and January for online tax returns. For the 2017/18 tax year, which ended in April 2018, the deadline for paper tax returns is 31 October 2018 and the deadline for online tax returns is 31 January 2019.

After submitting your tax return, you need to pay the tax you owe. The deadline is usually the same as the final date for online Self Assessment tax returns, so the deadline for paying your 2017/18 tax is 31 January 2019.

How to fill in your Self Assessment tax return

When it comes to filling in your tax return, you’ll need all the information you have about your earnings for the tax year, as well as the details of any expenses you want to deduct from your tax return.

It’s important that you keep a record of all your income and expenses. That way, you’ll have it to hand when the time comes to fill in your tax return. There are a number of accounting apps and other bookkeeping software for small businesses, if you prefer to keep digital records, many of which integrate with the HMRC website to make filling in your tax return a bit easier.

In order to file your tax return, you’ll also need your UTR (unique taxpayer reference)number. The UTR is a reference number that’s assigned to you when you register. It’s usually printed on letters from HMRC regarding your tax return, but keep a note of it somewhere safe so you can easily find it when the time comes.

What are allowable expenses for small businesses?

When you’re self-employed, there are a number of costs you can claim back against your Self Assessment tax bill, so long as they’re allowable expenses. These are the main ones small businesses can claim:

  • office costs such as stationery or phone bills
  • travel costs such as fuel, parking, and train or bus fares
  • clothing expenses such as uniforms
  • staff costs such as salaries or subcontractor costs
  • things you buy to sell on such as stock or raw materials
  • financial costs such as insurance or bank charges
  • costs of your business premises such as heating, lighting, and business rates
  • advertising and marketing such as website costs

It’s important to note that if you work from home you can still claim business premises costs, but only a percentage. You can claim back for things like:

  • heating
  • electricity
  • Council Tax
  • mortgage interest or rent
  • internet and telephone use

HMRC asks that you find a ‘reasonable method’ of dividing the costs between personal and business use. They suggest using the number of rooms used for business purposes, or the time spent working from home.

If you run your limited company, you can instead deduct business costs from your profits before tax. If any of those are items you make personal use of, that has to be counted as a company benefit.

For more information on allowable expenses, check out our full guide to self-employed tax deductible expenses.

Changes to Self Assessment

In 2017, the government announced a number of changes to the Self Assessment process as part of its Making Tax Digital initiative, including quarterly tax returns and removing the option to file tax returns by paper. Some of these changes have been put on hold. Although, you can voluntarily sign up for the Making Tax Digital pilot for income tax instead of filing your Self Assessment. It’s worth keeping an eye out to see if the government makes any changes in the future.

As it stands, only businesses who pay VAT will have to submit their tax returns electronically, and only by 2019. However, the government have frequently said that they want to become ‘one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world’, so it’s likely these changes will impact all small businesses in future.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us!

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online store

How to set up your first online store

Online stores are great friends to small businesses. They’re an excellent way to get started in retail without investing in bricks and mortar or staff. If you already have a physical store, an online presence can extend your reach beyond your local neighbourhood, while giving existing customers a more convenient way to shop.

If you’ve thought about creating your first online store and given up because it was too hard, take another look. As a result, handling online payments isn’t the chore it used to be. Secure, off-the-shelf services have greatly simplified what used to be a troublesome technical task. And they sync beautifully with online accounting to make bookkeeping painless. 

What should an online store have?

At its most basic, your first online store needs to:

  • showcase your products – including pictures, descriptions and prices
  • include a shopping cart where customers can build their order
  • process payments via PayPal or credit card
  • protect important financial data, such as credit card numbers
  • give shipping options

Three ways to start one

Firstly, in the early days of ecommerce, you had to build your own shop from scratch. Most of the components were custom made, which meant you spent a lot on design and development. The backend tools that managed the exchange of money were also expensive and needed technical expertise to set up.

Now you have options, come of which give you point-and-click setup. You can:

  • sell through a third-party platform
  • host a store through an e-commerce provider
  • host your own online shop

As with all choices, there are pros and cons. Let’s take a deeper look.

1. Selling through a third-party platform

If you choose to sell on a third-party site, all you need to do is set up a seller account. You won’t need to pay for web hosting or set up your own payment gateway. You’ll just need to cover the service fees – which are typically deducted from your sales.

With most platforms, you ship the goods direct to the customer. Amazon allows you to do this, too, but they also have a service where you send the goods to their warehouse and Amazon fulfills the order.

Approximately half of the Amazon shipments aren’t actually sold by Amazon. They’re sold by retailers like you who use their platform. Once you set up your account with a site like Amazon or eBay, you’re ready to start selling. It doesn’t matter if your monthly revenues are £100 or £100,000, they’ll handle payment and shipping for you. Just be aware that there may be a slight delay between when you finish creating your listing and when it goes live. Some platforms need to approve your shop before it’s opened up for customers to find you.

Setting up your first online store using a third-party platform is easy, but there’s very little room for branding. In some cases, you can’t really customise how the shop looks, aside from the product images. However, some platforms allow you to choose from different templates and change colours so take a look around. Before deciding on a platform, make sure you know what the design limits are and that you’re ok with them.

2. Hosting your store through an ecommerce provider

For example, dedicated ecommerce platforms give you a good balance of simplicity and flexibility. You’ll have more say in how the store looks and feels, and you’ll control how goods are sold and shipped. You can set up your own shop using sites like:

  • Shopify
  • Etsy
  • BigCommerce

When you choose one of these platforms, you get access to a range of templates and themes that you can use to build your storefront. Then you drop the storefront into your existing website so it’s a seamless experience for your visitors. As a bonus, with some platforms like Etsy, your product also appears on their site.

You’ll pay a monthly subscription fee for services like these, but that covers hosting, payment processing with your designated merchant providers, and security.

3. Hosting your own online shop

If you want to build the store exactly how you like it, without being limited by templates, you can use a content management system like WordPress. It will take much more time but you’ll be able to choose the layout, the design, and the entire experience. You can teach yourself how to do it or hire designers and developers to do it for you.

If you go down this route you’ll also need to choose a:

  • hosting provider, such as HostPresto
  • a virtual shopping cart, such as WooCommerce or Magento
  • a merchant provider to process payments, such as PayPal, Stripe or
  • spam-protection from someone like Akismet
  • SSL certificates and secure backup solutions for site safety and consumer protection

What you need to get your first online store running

Once you’ve chosen one of these services, you’re almost in business. There are three steps left to take:

Providing business details
You won’t be able to get money from your sales until you’ve given your merchant provider or third-party platform provider:

  • your business ID
  • your business banking details
  • the appropriate sales tax rate, if applicable

Get a merchant provider
You’ll also have to get set up with the  merchant provider of your choice, such as Paypal or Stripe (for processing credit card payments).

The biggest hurdle is verifying test deposit transactions for banking and merchant processing. Once this is taken care of, you’ll be all ready to go.

Choose an email management solution
You should also decide on an email management solution to build and track your customer list. This is useful for email marketing campaigns, informing customers of sales and special deals, and asking for feedback on your store. You can use a solution such as:

  • MailChimp
  • AWeber
  • Infusionsoft

Find platforms that play well together

Not all ecommerce platforms integrate with all web tools and services. Some platforms require you to use certain merchant providers or email systems, for example.

You can find which tools your store integrates with by searching under the API or integrations option on your store’s website. The solution with the most flexibility is typically the best choice for the long-term.

Setting up payment and shipping policies

Third-party platforms like eBay and Amazon have policies in place to ensure that customers receive their goods quickly and easily. When you’re selling and shipping your own product using an ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, or a self-hosted WordPress store, you’ll need to figure this out on your own.

The most common options for payment are via credit card or Paypal. They’ve become much easier to set up. If you use an ecommerce platform, they’ll guide you through the process. You have other options, too, such as:

  • wire transfers
  • cheques
  • finance or flexible payment (flex pay) for pricier products

It costs money to ship your product. The faster you send it, the more it will cost. Yet shoppers prefer vendors who offer fast delivery and free shipping. There’s a lot to consider here. Whatever you decide, be very clear about delivery costs and timelines in your shop.

Read more about shipping in Xero’s guide: Use online shipping to build customer loyalty

How and when do I get the money?

If this is your first online store – and you’ve got money tied up in inventory – you probably want to know how quickly you’ll get money from sale. It generally takes from two to five business days for money from a sale to hit your account. The exact length of time may depend on the merchant provider and the history of your account.

For this reason, it’s important to keep your merchant provider happy. Keep your information updated and respond quickly to questions. If you don’t, they may put security holds or even suspensions on your account.

Discovering the power of online business

You can reach a massive audience with an online shop. Because there’s no bricks-and-mortar, and often no employees either, it can also be a low-cost way to start a business. Plus your transactions are just about always digital, which makes it easy to do your accounting, track cash flow, and maintain inventory. You can plug your store straight into accounting software to automate everything – from receiving orders all the way through to tax payments.

Setting up a shop and taking payment over the internet used to be complex. But with more and more online stores opening all the time, the industry is now well served by proven, affordable and easy-to-use technologies. It’s a great time to set up your first online store.

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