Top 5 Offline Resources for Online Businesses

:: Melissa Butler, LendVantage ::

On the Internet, the cost barrier to starting up a business is far lower compared to that of starting up a brick-and-mortar business. Low cost and time required starting an online business means more people are using the Internet to create businesses and generate revenue. Contrast that with the multitude of expenses incurred with a physical business and it is easy to see why so many people are opting for the online route.

What isn't talked about often in the world of online businesses, however, is that they really are businesses in the most traditional sense of the word, and as such still need the support of skilled professionals, same as traditional businesses do.

Here are five important offline resources each online business needs:

Banker - Startup costs are minimal for an online business, but hopefully there will come a time when a business needs to grow. The traditional way to fund that growth is through a business loan.

An online business owner needs a banker who understands the unique circumstances of an Internet business. A banker whose eyes won't glaze over at the mention of website optimization services, scalable servers or outsourced content creation strategists is worth their weight in gold. It's never too soon to build a relationship with a loan agent at a bank. Also consider similar options such as credit unions or alternative lending sources.

CPA - Even when a business is completely online, the taxman still has a long reach. The good news is that many online businesses can qualify as home businesses and can gain the benefit of deductions when it's tax time. Better yet, discuss with your CPA the benefits of incorporating the business, either as an LLC or a corporation, to assess various tax deductions.

The best CPA to hire is one who understands the nuances of the expenses particular to an online business. Expenses such as software licenses, payments to subcontractors on the other side of the world, payments for Web-based courses and webinars to learn cutting-edge promotional techniques are some examples of legitimate expenses for running an online business, but which many times can cause furrowed brows when discussed with a CPA.

It isn't merely expenses that must be dealt with from an accounting point of view, but the income too. There are a number of ways to collect payment for goods purchased or services rendered, and an Internet-savvy CPA won't turn white at the idea of payment being collected through a third-party service like PayPal or eLance. The time it takes to select a 21st century CPA will be time well spent.

Lawyer - With the globalization of business through the Internet, legal issues have become incredibly complex. Twisting and turning through the legal systems of multiple countries which each have particular tax laws, privacy laws and consumer protection laws can be a daunting task for anyone.

One legal issue for online businesses are DMCA take-down notices - a person reports a website to its host and complains that the site is misusing copyrighted material. Dealing with this issue and the related one of misusing copyrighted graphics takes a skilled negotiator. That is the primary trait an online business owner would need in a lawyer. Good legal counsel can also assist with making sure a websites' Terms and Conditions, or Statement of Work, are airtight. Finally, businesses can be targets of lawsuits, frivolous or legitimate. Good legal advice can be invaluable in keeping small problems from growing into all-consuming ones.

Insurance Agent - Like any business, an online business has assets and those assets must be insured against loss. This most often happens when the website hosting service crashes or is hacked. Hacking can often lead to the loss and destruction of not just data, but also the programs and outputs from those programs which created the website in the first place. Also consider Liability Insurance to protect against lawsuits, as well as umbrella insurance. As an online business grows and adds employees, a knowledgeable insurance agent can help navigate through the complexity of health insurance plans.

Actuary - Actuaries as it relates to a small business help figure out how a company's pension or 401K should be structured, funded and disbursed. Similar to the other professional services, the best actuary for an online business has a background working with companies who have similar needs. It's also not a bad idea to cross-check the advice of an actuary through online research or advice from a CPA.

It might take a little bit extra time and patience, but carefully choosing these five service providers will yield major benefits.

Melissa Butler is Digital Marketing Specialist at LendVantage. LendVantage helps good businesses become great by simplifying the way they access working capital. Learn more at