How to start a UK online business? (admin)


A few years ago I had an idea for an online business, its going to operate as a freemium model and simply deal with information no tangible goods. since then I have been creating the site learning html, css, rails etc etc from knowing nothing (hence the few years bit).

My site still isn't completely ready but the free side is usable. I would like to deploy it soon and see if it can get some traction and implement the premium side a little later.

Ideally I would like to setup as a private limited, payments will eventually (hopefully) be taken through a payment gateway such as PayPal Website Payments Pro, Sage Pay or WorldPay Global Gateway linked to my business bank account.

Can anyone advise as to how to set up an online business in the UK as regards to the law, company registering, setting up a business bank account and any other bits which needs to be done?

Thanks very much for any help its much appreciated!

Getting Started Bootstrapped Ecommerce UK Online

asked Jan 8 '12 at 06:09
113 points

2 Answers


Off the top of my head legals and regulations wise:

  • Your accountant can usually set up the Ltd company for you. (Or use a company formation agent if you prefer)
  • VAT Registration if you expect turnover to exceed £70k (iirc) - easy to do, again your accountant will usually do this
  • Bank account - most accountants seem to recommend Cater Allen (as they no doubt get a commission), good alternative is the co op.
  • Insurance (Employer, employee and public liability insurance are legally required). You can get these packaged together, and doesn't cost a great deal.
None of which are actually needed to start trading online. I'd recommend just launching it, as a part time self-employed, taking payments personally and step up to a LTD co when you have proved it works. Apart from anything else you have a yearly overhead of roughly £2,000 a year to run a Ltd Co (including accountancy)

For your own sanity set up a separate account for business use - even if it's just a personal savings account with bank to take payments into and keep separate from personal things. You might prefer a "doing business as" account so you can use the trading name.

You will need to let the Revenue know (when you start taking income, or within 3 months) or they hit you with an auto £100 fine : For payments also take a look at over Paypal - UK based, their terms are better, and they have a business option to entirely free you from the risk of card fraud. (They're quite selective who's eligible for that option though). Good to get started with until you outgrow them.

If you're in the UK, selling to the UK also be aware of the Advertising Standards Regs as they now apply to websites, Distance Selling regs and Ecommerce requirements which say what you must have on the site. See here:

answered Jan 8 '12 at 06:45
2,552 points
  • Thanks for the answer, I didn't realise running a PLC costs about £2,000 bit out of my price range at the moment. Are those insurances still required as a sole trader? I'm not planning on having any other staff and public liability insurance seems to covers physical injury and/or damage to property, would I need this as an online operation? Great link to the bodlelaw site too, thanks very much. – Dave 12 years ago
  • @Dave Accounts for Ltd co are a little more complex in what they must present, so you need more of a paper trail. Employer/pub liab insurance aren't needed as a sole trader, but are one of the legal must-haves for a company. Your best bet is talk to a couple of local accountants to get an idea of costs of doing accounts for simple self employed / ltd co. as they vary quite widely by region. (You can do accounts yourself - for what you seem to be doing an accountant just to check over and help with self assessment may be more than enough). Good luck with your venture :) – Matt 12 years ago


If it's a serious business idea then it's always best to see an accountant concerning whether or not you actually incorporation or not. You have the option of trading as a sole trader, or a private limited company. The limited company has the advantage of separating the financial dealings of your company and yourself more clearly, but the disadvantage of additional administration.

We're UK based and the process for registering with Sage Pay is pretty horrific if you're small. The key issue here is what will be the average size of payment, that determines, to an extent, which payment provider(s) are best suited.

But when you say you're ready to deploy soon, is this business idea entirely untested? If so, I'd run some kind of test before worrying about the admin side. If it goes nowhere, you can save yourself a lot of time and money.

answered Jan 8 '12 at 06:23
David Benson
2,166 points
  • Thanks for the input, the site I'm working on is completely untested but the idea isn't new (theres plenty of competition) I just think I've found a better way of doing it. If it goes nowhere at least I've had fun building it and the overheads are minimal, just domain, server and github. I didn't realise owning a PLC could cost about 2k per year so will have to rethink that. So long as I can make enough to cover those I'd keep it going maybe look at advert revenue. Thanks again for the answer. – Dave 12 years ago

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