Considering starting an online bookstore business? You may be on to something. Today, book sales take up a £6.4 billion market in the UK, with about £3 billion of those sales being digital. Selling books online makes them more accessible and convenient. So, this kind of business can be profitable if you know where to focus your efforts. But, if you wonder how to start an online bookstore business, we can help.

This guide will cover how to start an online bookstore business, including: 

  • Planning 
  • Setting up 
  • Organising 
  • Marketing 

Planning your online bookstore business 

If you want to know how to start an online bookstore business, you’ll need a plan before setting up. Having a strong idea for your business will help you make the right choices and pursue them with a clear head. We’ll cover the essentials of planning for your business. 

Market research 

The first step in planning a new business is conducting market research. This research will help you understand the market by studying stats, trends, and demand. These factors will guide your pricing and sales goals. In addition, the sales numbers and interaction will allow you to define your target audience, or the people most interested in your products. 

Market research will inform you on significant competitors, such as Waterstones and Kindle. Plus, you can uncover similar small businesses. These businesses might be a good place to pull ideas from or show you an opportunity or market gap you could enter. 

With a clear idea of what you’re up against, you can determine what unique approach or specialisation will help you stand out. For example, Bookshop.org took on the challenges of the pandemic by supporting local bookshops. You might choose to focus on a specific genre of books, support underrepresented groups, or curate rare finds. 

Knowledge and skills 

Once you understand the online bookstore market, consider the skills necessary to succeed in this market. You likely already have a passion for literature and reading, which will be important for bookselling. If you want to sell books, you’ll need to believe in them. 

In addition, you could take a course or read a few books on the bookselling and publishing industry. Understanding the workings of the industry will prepare you for this business. You’ll also need to have strong marketing skills to make your business shine in the crowded digital space. 

To stay updated with news and trends in the literary community, you might want to join the Booksellers Association. Plus, subscribe to relevant magazines, trade journals, and follow literary-community social media accounts and groups. From book reviewers to publishers and sellers, staying on top of everything will help you stay informed.  

Bookstore format 

Next, to start an online bookstore business, you’ll need to decide it’s format. Will you sell and ship physical books online, focus only on ebook sales, or do both? Through what platform will you sell these books? For example, you could design an online store or use an established platform like Amazon. Using an existing platform might help you access their audience, but having your own store will allow you to keep more of the money you earn. 

Whichever platform you choose to sell on, you’ll need to plan how to accept payments

Supplies 

After deciding your bookstore format, you’ll need the right supplies to get your business running. Supplies, of course, include books, so find a wholesale supplier for the format your plan to sell. How you stock your shop may depend on your approach or specialisation. For example, if you plan only to sell self-published books, you might track down and reach out directly to authors. 

When selling books, you must be aware of and ensure you have the proper selling rights, so you don’t break copyright law. You can read more about UK copyright law here

On top of books, you’ll also need a place to sell them, such as a website or online shop. If you plan to ship physical books, you’ll need packaging materials and postage. 

Business plan 

Now that you have outlined your business, you can put it together in a business plan. A business plan summarises your purpose and products while outlining goals and objectives. This document helps guide you through starting your business, and it’s a great way to measure progress. Plus, if you need to secure funding for your business by either finding an investor or applying for a loan, you’ll need to show them your business plan. 

Another significant aspect of your business plan is the budget. A budget helps you plan for and stick to how much you spend on your business. It’s crucial when starting your company because you’ll have to consider startup costs.  

Setting up your online bookstore 

Once you plan your online bookstore, you can set the business up legally. There’s a few key steps to turning your business idea into a legal entity. 

Registration 

First, register your business, and it’s name with the UK government. You can register as either a sole trader or a limited company. Sole traders are personally liable for their business, while limited companies are separate legal entities from their directors. Though being a sole trader might put you at more of a financial risk, you’ll need to maintain fewer records and pay fewer taxes.

When starting an online bookstore business, you may not have major operational costs or earnings from the start. Unless you plan to grow rapidly, you might prefer to start as a sole trader.  

Taxes 

Once you register your business, you’ll need to pay taxes for it. In other words, you’ll maintain financial records and report your income to the HMRC. If you’re self-employed and receive variable income, you’ll likely have to submit a Self Assessment tax return

If you register as a limited company, you’ll pay corporation tax in addition to income or dividend tax and national insurance. Plus, if you estimate earnings over £85,000 annually, you’ll need to register for VAT. VAT registered businesses must comply with Making Tax Digital (MTD), a governmental initiative to digitise and simplify the tax process. Soon MTD will expand to cover most businesses, so it’s essential to be conscious of. 

Insurance 

Insurance is another essential step to setting up your business as it protects you from financial risk. If your business is entirely digital, you may not need public liability insurance, or insurance that protects you from damage or injury your business is at fault for. Still, it’s worth considering. Regardless, you might want to insure your book stock or digital data as these things can hurt you financially if they’re lost or damaged. 

Organising your online bookstore business 

After setting up, another essential part of knowing how to start an online bookstore business is organising it well. With the right organisation, you can stay on top of your operations and track your performance. 

Daily operations 

First, you’ll need to think about how you’ll organise your business day-to-day. Keeping organised with a calendar, timetable, and to-do list will help you manage your operations. Consider using a business management tool like Google Workspace or Microsoft Office, which allow you to keep your calendar, communications, and documents in one place. 

Apart from that, you may want to use a tool like monday or Trello to coordinate your tasks and projects. For example, if you plan to design a website and create a list of books to order, you can make tasks for these projects. Then, add subtasks for each to break them up and make them more manageable.  

Financial organisation 

But organising your daily operations isn’t enough. You also need to organise your finances well. Businesses are required to do financial accounting, or the record-keeping of financial transactions. The HMRC actually expects you to store these records for about six years. But to stay on top of it all, you’ll need a little help.

Business current account 

First, separate your business finances from your personal ones by opening a business current account. By having a bank account specifically for your business, you can avoid digging through your bank statements to find business expenses. It will also prevent you from mixing up personal transactions with business ones. As a result, you’ll maintain more accurate records. 

Accounting software

But to stay on top of your bookkeeping and understand your business performance, you’ll need modern accounting software, like Countingup. Unlike most accounting tools, Countingup is a business current account with built-in accounting software that helps you organise your business finances in one place. 

To help you manage your business expenses, the Countingup app offers automatic expense categorisation. This tool instantly labels your transactions with HMRC approved categories so you can more easily find them. Plus, the app has a receipt capture tool that reminds you to snap a picture of your receipt when you pay for something with your Countingup card. 

Countingup also simplifies taxes with year-round tax estimates so you won’t be surprised by these expenses. Plus, the app is MTD-compliant, allowing you to easily share your financial data with your accountant without worrying about duplication errors, data lags or inaccuracies.

Marketing your online bookstore to attract customers 

Once you know how to start an online bookstore business, you can market it to customers. Marketing is essential to growing your audience and finding customers for your bookstore. 

Website 

Since this is an online business, you likely already considered designing a website. But your website can be more than just an online shop. It’s also a great place to market your business by explaining who you are and what you offer. 

When designing your site, consider your business’s brand, or tone and design that represents it to the public. You can use this to design a logo and pick a colour scheme that stands out. Also, be sure to make the site easily navigable and mobile-friendly. 

On top of the bookstore, be sure to include an about page, contact information, and links to other places people can find your business, such as social media channels. 

Blog

You may also want to incorporate a blog to your website to take advantage of content marketing. Content marketing is less promotional-focused material that can draw in an audience. For example, you could write book reviews, interview writers, or write about news in the literary community. 

Regularly updating your site will help it look more professional and credible. Also, incorporate SEO tactics that will help your blog post rank higher on Google search results. This exposure will direct traffic to your website and draw in more book customers. 

Social media 

Social media marketing is another way to grow an audience when starting an online bookstore business. Consider establishing a presence on social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can post book-related content and share photos of the products you sell. TikTok and Goodreads are also platforms that will help you access a literary audience.  

Paid advertising can also help you earn customers for your online bookstore. You may want to invest in Google Ads or Facebook Ads to reach a targeted audience that would be interested in buying your books. Though this costs more than running your own social accounts, it can reach more people with less effort. With these strategies, you can start earning money from your bookstore in no time. 

Simplify your new business finances with Countingup

Financial management can be stressful and time-consuming when you start a business. That’s why thousands of business owners use the Countingup app to make their financial admin easier. It can help you set up and manage your bookstore business as it grows. 

The Countingup app does more than separate your business finances and helps you stay on top of your transactions. It also generates cash flow insights, helping you analyse what you earn and spend and track your business performance. As a result, you can confidently keep on top of your business finances wherever you are and make better business decisions. 

Start your three-month free trial today. 

Find out more here.