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Should your business be online only?

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Online shopping now accounts for almost 20% of total retail sales in the UK. At the same time, Britain’s high streets are struggling to attract shoppers, meaning that many entrepreneurs are choosing to be online only.

Advantages of online-only businesses

Steven Drew, head of product at Informi, a community for small business owners, says opting to trade online only reduces the risk of setting up a business. “It creates an opportunity for people to try things without having the need for huge capital outlay. Anybody can do it. There are facilities to set up a website; you can create an online brand; there is software which enables you to deal with your accounts.”


Combined with Starling’s free business account, which can be set up in minutes, online traders can be up and running in no time.

Marie Sharman-Forgue set up her accountancy business online only. She says: “There are a lot less overheads. To start with it’s a good solution.” She enjoys the flexibility of not having an office. “Often my clients email or call me in the evening or on the weekend and I deal with them then.”

The benefits of a physical business

A physical presence also helps with branding; provides the opportunity for walk-by traffic; and can add to the experience of buying a product or service – a bike shop might offer repairs, experienced sales assistants can give buying advice. 

Claire Hender, who makes jewellery, says people buying handmade items enjoy finding out about who made it, and how. That is why she gives up 10-12 weekends a year to sell her Little Storm jewellery at different craft markets across London.

“It’s definitely good to meet people face-to-face. The cult of the maker is quite strong at the moment. People love hearing about how you made things. That’s why it wouldn’t work so well just online.”


Combining your physical and online presence

Craft markets, which are cheap and don’t incur many long-term costs, offer a third way for makers like Claire. She set up her online presence at the same time as starting to sell at markets and says both strands are important. “The website and the online shop are vital for selling to people who don’t want to make the commitment to buy face-to-face at the market that you happen to be at.”