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How to start a successful online business in 8 steps

How to start a successful online business in 8 steps

10-minute read

Running an online business from home is a flexible way to be your own boss working to your own schedule. Whether you’re keen to earn a side income to help pay for the ever-increasing cost of living, or you’re committed to investing time to develop a lucrative full-time business, here are some of the first steps you could take to help you get off on the right track.

What we’ll cover


Key take-outs

  • Start with a great online business idea – we give you some thought starters
  • Conduct market research and incorporate it in a business plan
  • Choose a name for your business, register it, and get an ABN
  • Build a website and optimise it and its URL for search engines
  • Organise your business banking and decide how to take payments
  • Advertise your business online and build digital relationships with your customers.

What are the key steps when starting an online business from home?

1. Come up with a great online business idea

One approach is to think about what consumers want or need, then work out how to digitise the service and/or offer it from home. Ask friends what would make their lives easier or more enjoyable; or think about a skill you have that others would benefit from. Some of the best small business ideas come from a chat with like-minded people in a café or pub.


If you’re simply thinking eCommerce, what’s your niche? What will make your online store ideas interesting and shareable? What will you sell online? How will you source stock? You’ll find plenty of ideas for other types of online business later in this article.


2. Conduct market research

If you have the seed of an idea, search to see who else might be doing it and how – potentially overseas. Is there a gap in the Australian market you can fill? Or a better way to do something that’s already being done?


You may need to research suppliers for your eCommerce site; or identify the volume of potential customers who might be interested in your service; or investigate how to market to your target audience.


3. Develop a business plan

Writing a solid business plan is an excellent way to pull ideas and aspirations together in a way that demands clarity and focus – and might help to set you up for a successful online business. It should cover the online business idea, the products or services you’ll be offering, your target market, your goals, your marketing plans, and your financial planning and projections. If you need to kick-start your online business with a business loan, the lender may ask to see a business plan to assess if your online business idea is viable.


Read our handy How to write a business plan guide, which includes links to business plan templates.


4. Name and register your business

Can I ‘own’ the name of my business? What type of business structure should I be? How do I register it? Do I need an ABN (Australian Business Number) or ACN (Australian Company Number)? What about GST registration?


Read our 4 key steps when setting up your business article to find answers to these common questions.


5. Build a website

Whether it’s to promote your business or actually sell products online, home website development is simpler now than it’s ever been. Many off-the-shelf platforms are available for eCommerce businesses, and a quick search for ‘website builder’ will reveal all the main self-build website providers.


Think of wording for your URL (website address) that encapsulates your business and acts as your initial advertisement. To find out if it’s available in any relevant domain extension (such as, search ‘domain registration Australia’ and choose a registration company to search URL options through.


If you’re planning to take payments online, you may like to consider a Westpac eCommerce solution.


6. Set up your business banking

It’s a good idea to separate your business banking from your personal finances. That way you can keep both income and expenses apart for tax time, track how your business is performing, and simplify accounting.


You can connect a Westpac business bank account to accounting software such as MYOB and Xero to assist with bookkeeping, and manage everything in Online Banking.


Westpac offers a $0 monthly fee business account (Business One), and an added value business account (Business One Plus) that gives you access to exclusive discounts on popular business products and services.


7. Decide how to accept payments

If you’re building an eCommerce website using an off-the-shelf platform, it may already incorporate a payment gateway. But if you’re looking for your own way of accepting card payments online or by phone, you may wish to consider one of the eCommerce solutions provided by Westpac.


Alternatively, if your business model works better with bank-to-bank payments, you can just give customers the BSB and account number of your account. Or if you’d rather not share your bank account details, you can ask them to pay by PayID®, meaning you’ll only need to provide the unique number you’ve registered for the service – which could be your mobile number or ABN.


8. Promote your online business

Traditional print and broadcast advertising can be prohibitively expensive, but adopting a mix of digital marketing strategies can be a cost-effective way of marketing an online business in Australia. Start with search engine optimisation (SEO) of your website, ensuring that the key words your potential customers are searching for are featured prominently in page names and headlines. If you’re in a niche sector without too much competition for search terms, consider pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, where you bid for search terms to gain the best search engine position, and pay each time someone clicks on your ad.


Social media marketing through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn can be effective and low cost, though the competition for attention is huge. Building and maintaining a mailing list for eDMs (electronic direct mail) and newsletters is another way to keep your brand top of mind. Building and maintaining relationships in this way is called customer relationship marketing (CRM) – and it’s a proven way to differentiate a business from its competitors.

What are some online business ideas in Australia?

The traditional idea of an online business is an eCommerce website with a payment gateway, selling absolutely anything imaginable. Amazon started with books, then expanded its range exponentially. Many other successful online retailers have jumped on the bandwagon, including major high street brands.


Nowadays, there are no limits to the types of business that can operate online, and every conceivable service is offered. Here are some ideas to get you started. If nothing’s sparking your interest, get together with family or friends to brainstorm other online business ideas.


Affiliate marketer

Use your website, social presence, or digital newsletter to promote the products or services of others via links or banner advertising. You make money through a pay-for-performance model negotiated with each third party you represent.


Artistic content producer

Share your music, comedy, poetry, performances, or other curated content using a social platform such as a YouTube channel. Then generate revenue through subscriptions, advertising revenue and sales.



With small businesses managing their finances through accounting software such as MYOB and Xero, it’s very simple for them to give your online bookkeeping business remote access to their accounts. You can manage everything from BAS to GST and end-of-year reporting from your own home, using shared documents in shared folders.



Write creatively about your passion, travels, or area of expertise and you could build a following of fellow enthusiasts. You can turn their interest in your words into income through in-page advertising, or any number of online sales or subscription services.


Digital designer, copywriter or developer

User experience mapping, website design, app development, copywriting, content management and code writing all lend themselves to online rather than office-based businesses. And online collaboration tools have done away with the need for white boards and sticky notes.


Digital marketing agency

Online is the perfect place to offer complementary marketing services such as website management, social media marketing, content creation, search engine optimisation and digital advertising services.



You don’t need a huge warehouse full of stock to run an eCommerce business. With a drop-shipping business, you simply choose products from a variety of suppliers and feature them in your own online store. You only pay for items once you've received payment from your customers, then put in your own order and the supplier manages all the packaging and delivery.


Freelance writer

Businesses across Australia are in constant need of blogs and articles that attract visitors to their websites. If you’re good with words and know how to craft engaging content, you can offer a home writing service from virtually anywhere.


Gallery owner

You’ll only have so much wall space for your own paintings or photography, so turn your creative hobby into a business with an online store and gallery selling artworks and prints. You can get great value from high street print and framing shops nowadays, so you don’t even need to part with the originals if you don’t want to.



Amateur content producers are building followings and promoting products, simply by live streaming or sharing videos through platforms such as YouTube, Tik Tok and Instagram.  Influencer marketing revenue generally comes through advertising, channel subscriptions, and merchandise sales.


Health and wellness mentor

Many who seek help in areas such as lifestyle choices, exercise, diet and mental health, prefer contactless consultations online rather than trips to clinics, involving hanging around in waiting rooms. After getting qualified, you could carry out rewarding one-to-one sessions from just about anywhere. Or develop online courses to share with subscribers.


Personal trainer

If you can motivate people to get fit in a park or gym, you could do it from home too via an online video service – for those who prefer not to work out in public. Once you’ve achieved the relevant qualifications, you could develop a program that can be carried out without equipment, using elements such as floor exercises, yoga and mat-based Pilates.



Another eCommerce option is reselling. People scour everything from op shops to council clear-up piles to pick up clothes, vintage wear, furniture and furnishings they can clean, mend, and sell on sites such as eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace.



It’s now easier than ever to set up and manage your own eCommerce site with no app development skills required. All you need is a mobile, an internet connection, and an idea – plus an eCommerce platform of course. What you start selling online is up to you, but the real skill is finding a niche that helps you stand out from the crowd. Maybe make and sell your own products, or source from specialist producers who don’t yet have an online presence.


Social media manager

How many people local business owners do you know, or tradespeople? The chances are they struggle to find the time to manage their own social marketing. A few hours of your time each week writing and posting ad messages, endorsements and case studies could give them the reassurance that they are competing effectively on social without having to devote their precious time to it.


Sharing your skills

If you’re good at sharing skills, develop online courses in your area of expertise or passion. E-learning content could range from hobby skills to professional development – and be delivered through paid subscription services.


Virtual assistant

As businesses move into virtual office space and executives increasingly work from home, the need arises for virtual assistants to help with meeting arrangements, agendas, office admin and bookkeeping. With your new business you could be assisting managers across the world and in a fascinating variety of industries that you’d never encounter close to home.



Rather than peddling their novels from publisher to publisher, trying to find an appreciative editor, many writers are now choosing self-publishing to launch their careers and market their work. A plethora of online services can help with editing, grammar, and publication itself.


To sum up:

Success in any online business requires dedication, hard work, innovation, creativity, and continuous adaptation to market forces and emerging trends. Before launching any new venture, conduct thorough market research and create a solid business plan to increase your chances of building a successful business.

Read more

Business basics for sole traders

Discover how to name and register your business, apply for GST, and find an accountant – in this handy guide.

10 tips for when you start your business

Taking the leap of faith to start your own business? Here are 10 tips to help get your new venture off to a good start.

Turning your business vision into a plan

Starting a business is exciting. For the best chance of success, you’ll need to think about writing a business plan and getting in the right mindset.

Things you should know

Westpac’s products are subject to terms, conditions, fees and charges; and certain criteria may apply. Before making a decision, read the disclosure documents for your selected product or service, including the Product Disclosure Statement and T&Cs; and consider if the product is right for you.


This information does not take into account your personal circumstances and is general. It is an overview only and should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon. Consider obtaining personalised advice from a professional financial adviser and your accountant before making any financial decisions in relation to the matters discussed in this article, including when considering tax and finance options for your business. Westpac does not endorse any of the external providers referred to in this article.


PayID® is a registered trademark of NPP Australia Limited.