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Guide to starting your own online store

start-an-online-ecommerce-business

The amount of money made online continues to rise. If you have been thinking about starting an online business then the time is right. People are becoming confident in buying online. They enjoy the cheaper prices, range and convenience of shopping online.

Build, launch and grow your online business with this guide.

Finding a product to sell

To get started selling online you will need a product or service to sell. You might already have a great idea for an online business, if so, great. If you are just starting out you aren’t going to be able to compete with the likes of amazon so the best idea is the find a niche to operate within. Keep things simple to start with. Carrying too much inventory can end up costing you if you can’t sell it all.

If you haven’t got a product in mind then in this section I will give you some ideas for finding a product to build your ecommerce business around.

Identify and solve a pain point

Many products have come into existence because someone had a common problem. They designed a product to solve the problem and then they started selling to others with the same problem. When looking for a product or service to sell think about the everyday problems that you, or other people face.

Cater to customer passions

People are passionate about all sorts of things. Think about what people love doing. Their hobbies and interests. For instance, people love their pets. Pet owners spend millions of dollars annually on pampering their pets. Every interest is a potential market.

Follow your own passion

Do you have any interests you are passionate about. You could turn your hobby into a business.

Look for gaps in market

Have you ever need a particular good or service, tried to find it but can’t find anything suitable. Or perhaps you have found it on an overseas website. You could design a product to fulfil your needs. Or find out where to source a product that will do the job. Alibaba is a great place to look.

Use your own experience

If you have experience in a certain field then you can use your experience to think of a niche product for a certain industry.

Look to local community

Pay attention to what other people are talking about. Do your friends, family and neighbours find buying certain products difficult. Do they have a pain point that you can solve with your product or service?

Online communities

As well as local communities, online communities are another good source of ideas.

Digital products or training

You don’t need to supply a physical product either. You can offer ‘virtual’ products and offer them as digital downloads. Training is another good idea. Can you teach others how to do something. Sean McCabe has made a great deal of money selling courses that teach how to make a living as a hand lettering artist.


 

Research

So you’ve considered a few ideas and thing you might have a good one for an online business. Now you need to do some research. You’ll need to consider many things to make your ecommerce store a success.

Choose a niche

Choosing a niche can help you dominate a slice of the market. For instance, a lot of online stores sell sunglasses. From discounted pairs to high end labels. But a couple of sunglass store sell wooden framed sunglasses. It might seem like a small market but you are more likely to be seen and heard than in a large crowded market.

Google searches

Do some searches of your product idea. See how many others are selling the same or similar products. Maybe what you find will give your more ideas or help you refine your idea.

Build a mind map

Build a mind map of your idea and explore every angle of it. It can help you visualise your ideas and refine them. There are apps that can help build a mind map or you can just use a pen and paper

Create-a-mind-map-mindmap

Is it a fad?

Before you open a hoverboard store think again. It is very hard to capitalise on fads. They are gone as quickly as they arrive. You could potentially end up with a garage full of unsellable product.

Google trends

A great way to test how popular a search term is, is to use Google Trends. Just type in a search term and Google Trends will show you the amount of searches made for the term over the last few years. You can visualise if something is becoming more or less popular.

What is your profit margin?

You’ll need to calculate your profit margin per sale. Take into account payment fees, shipping, advertising as well as the wholesale cost of the product.

How easy to get, make and ship is it?

If you are sourcing a product from a wholesaler you’ll need to be able fulfil your orders. If a product becomes popular the wholesaler or manufacturer can fall behind with orders. This can lead to angry, disappointed customers on your end.

If you are turning your hobby into a business then you need to be able to scale production of your products. If you sell cupcakes, then how many can you realistically bake in a week.

When it comes to ecommerce, smaller products can be better than large ones. Large products can cost a lot to ship. Especially to far-flung areas. If your product is fragile then you will need to spend more money on package to ensure your products arrive in one piece. Perishable products need the right packaging too. Spoiled food could cause big trouble for your business.

Potential Market size and demand

Do some research on the size of your market. A great tool for discovering the size of a potential market is to use Google’s Keyword Planner. Type in a few keywords to do with the product you want to sell and it will tell you how many searches are made for that term. You can refine the data by time and location. It will also suggest other similar keywords.

What competitors will you have?

It’s very rare that you can find a market with no competitors, no matter how niche. But don’t be discouraged. The fact that there are others in the same market validates your product idea. Take a good look at their websites. See what works and what doesn’t.

Who is your target customer?

There is an old saying. If you try to sell to everyone then you’ll end up selling to no one. Think about your target customer. The people most likely to buy from you. You can create a few customer ‘personas’ that you can use to refine your message.

Subscription based products

Another idea is creating recurring revenue. There are many business that sell their product like a service. For example Food bag sells food but it’s the convenience of having it delivered, with the instructions on how to cook it that really sells.
Men usually hate to shop. So people have made subscription services that will deliver shivering supplies every month for a fixed fee. There are monthly sock delivery services, even underwear delivery services.

Seasonality

You’ll need to take seasonality into account too. If you sell winter items then you won’t be very busy in the summer. Likewise if you sell Christmas hampers then you will be very business for one month a year. You might need to offer other products to even out your earnings.

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Creating a website

Before you get started selling online you’ll need an ecommerce website. They are plenty of options out there. So you’ll need to do some research and find the best solution for your needs.

Choose the right platform

There are many choices when creating an online store. There are hosted ecommerce solutions that charge a monthly fee. Or there are self hosted solutions using open source software. Hosted solutions can be less of a headache, but you pay a fee every month. If your store becomes a success you can end up paying a lot in fees. Hosted ecommerce solutions can be less flexible too.

Self hosted online stores can range from being simple to set up to being very complex and expensive. With a self hosted store you could pay more up front but monthly you just need to pay for web hosting.

It’s no secret that EG Web Design recommends and uses WooCommerce. It is cheap and easy to set up as well as being flexible and easy to expand.

Here is a link to more about ecommerce platforms.

Create a trustworthy site

If your website looks dodgy then people won’t buy from you. Simple as that. A well designed site with nice photos and clear, concise copy will attract the right customers. Having an SSL certificate installed on your ecommerce website is essential. SSL certs ensure your website encrypts data travelling to and from it. If your website takes payments and accepts credit card details on-site then it is the law that you must use an SSL Cert.

Good photos of products

With an online store people can’t physically touch and look in real life. So you need to showcase your products in the best possible way. Poorly lit, out of focus images won’t get people buying.

For a guide to taking better product shots check out this post.

SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Many good ecommerce solutions will have well optimised for search engines. However Google has changed their algorithms over the years. Now SEO is less about the technical aspects of websites and placing more emphasis is on the content of the site and social media.

Mobile friendly

Your website needs to be mobile friendly. These days people are joined to their mobile phones. About half of all web traffic comes from mobile and an increasing number of sales are made online. You wouldn’t open a store and only let in half of all the people would you?

Taxes

You’ll need to take into account income tax and sales tax. If you live in New Zealand then I’ve written a short guide about GST and selling online. For more advice please contact an accountant.

Shipping

Depending on the sizes and weight of your product(s) shipping can get very complicated, very quickly. Usually it is best to have a few shipping prices that are the best fit for most of your products. Don’t underestimate the time and cost of packaging and shipping.

Discount Coupons

Any good ecommerce platform should be able to handle discount coupon codes. They can be a great way to sell and get repeat business from past customers.

Good content

Write some good copy about your product. Try to write from the customers perspective. Talk about how the product will make you feel. How it feels in your hand. How it will taste. If you re-sell a product don’t just copy manufacturers product description. This is lazy and it causes duplicate content flags for Google. It could result in your sites search ranking being downgraded.

Calls to action

The art of good website copy is having a Call to Action on every page. People like things to be clear. A clear action linked to a benefit can increase engagement on your site. If you want people to sign up for your newsletter then have a large button with some copy explaining the benefits of your newsletter. Let people know what to expect and what they’ll miss out on if they don’t sign up, or buy, or contact you.

Alt tags

Google can’t see images (yet) when they index websites for search rankings. They need to be told what is in the image. That’s where ALT tag comes in. Write a short description of the image in the ALT tag area. It is an often neglected area where you can get one up on your competitors.

Easy checkout and payment process

This is key to a good ecommerce website. If your checkout and payment process is confusing and difficult to use then you will lose sales.

Try to have a “1 page checkout”. This means that all the address and contact input fields and payment fields are on one page. Making users click through a multipage checkout process can lead to lost sales.

PCI compliance

A set of requirements that ensures a safe and secure environment for every business which stores, processes or transmits credit card information. You must comply with PCI requirements. Failure to do so can result in your being responsible if your site is hacked and your customers credit card details are accessed. Your web design can help advise you on PCI compliance.

For explanation of any of these web design terms, check out my ecommerce jargon guide.

Payment gateways

Payment gateways are payment processing services. There are a variety of payment gateways. PayPal is easy to set up and use. They charge a fee based on a percentage of your sale. Others charge a per month base fee. Do some research and find out the best payment gateway for your needs. It may change depending on how many sales you are making. PayPal is usually a good place to start. You can always upgrade when you start making more sales.

Security

Not to be confused with the SSL Cert. You will need good security on your website. Most hosted ecommerce platforms have good security. If you are going down the open source, self hosted route, then you should consult a web developer to help ‘hack proof’ your website.

Google listing

Any new website should be registered with Google Webmaster Tools. Registering will ensure Google finds your website and indexes it to put in the search rankings. Google Webmaster Tools can also let you know if Google is having trouble viewing your site or if you have broken links.


 

Marketing your site

Build it and they will come. Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to websites. Many a great website has failed because of a lack of a marketing plan. There are some basics that, if done right, will generate traffic and build a customer base.

Build an email list

After organic search results, email marketing is the most effective form of online marketing. If you have an online store you should collect people’s email addresses when they make a purchase. This gives you the chance to keep on marketing to them. Services like Campaign Monitor and MailChimp are easy to use. They can be integrated with your website so people can sign up for newsletters onsite and emails captured at checkout can be added to your email list.

Promote on social media

You can’t ignore social media. Focus on the right form of social media for your online business. For example if you make beautiful cakes then that is a visual product. So try Instagram for posting photos of your awesome cakes. For a product that occupies a certain health niche you can create a FaceBook group. People can share their experiences and diet tips.

Don’t do the hard sell constantly on social media. This will just turn people off. You need to provide value to your followers and well as selling to them.

Social media is also a good way to answer questions about your product. If people love your products then they will quite often write about their experience on social media.

Blog

Blogging is one of the best ways to get a good search engine ranking. Try to write a blog post every week. To get started, sit down and create a blogging plan. Think of all the things your can write about your product.

Some ideas are:

  • How your product is made
  • How to use your product
  • If your product is a lifestyle or hobby product then write about it. e.g.. Running, Knitting, Travel etc.
  • Other uses for your product
  • Types of product
  • Which is the best product for certain customers
  • If your product is associated with a holiday then write about that. eg. 10 best wines to have with Christmas dinner.

The list goes on. If you create a plan and write a list of blog topics you will always have something to write about.

Create a sales funnel if paying for traffic.

If you are struggling to get eyes on your site then paying for traffic is an option. However, Google Adwords can be very competitive. The cost per click can be quite expensive. If you are going to spend money to get customer then you need a sales funnel in place.

Some sales funnels can involve writing an article that potential customers will find of value. Kind of like this one ?  and using an email signup to get the users email so you can continue to market to them.

Or you can create a lead page that collects emails or sells a small product.

Facebook ads can be a great source of targeted traffic to your website or Facebook page. Don’t try to make a $1000 sale right away. You just need to start the conversation.

Reviews

Reviews are a great way to engage with customers. Don’t be afraid of bad review. If you get a bad review use it as an opportunity to improve your product and/or service. If it is something that can be put right then do it. Some of the greatest advocates for your business can be people who have a problem. You went out of your way to put it right and ensure the sale ended with a great experience for the customer.

Transactional email

Transactional email are the notifications and confirmations that a ecommerce website sends out when purchases are made. Often this are automatic. Usually, depending on your ecommerce platform, you can edit this emails. Try to make them personal. Offer people discounts when it is there birthday. If you have a new product then have a short description and a link in the footer of the email.

Video

Video is the ‘new black’ when it comes to online marketing. Putting short videos on your website or social media is a great idea. If you thin you don’t have anything to make a video of consider YouTube. There are videos of cats, people taking computers out of boxes, teenagers talking about their lives. There is a market for everything. Make short videos about recipes if you sell food. Or do a short tour of your factory. Do a video on how to use your product.

Upsell / cross sell

A sales technique when you offer your customers the chance to purchase upgrades. Better features, better specifications, more volume or to get the more expensive version of what they’re buying. Cross selling sells a complimentary product. Like a cover to go with your new mobile phone to product it. Done right these methods can increase your profit margins.

So that’s my guide to creating an online business. Find a product to sell, set up an ecommerce website and then market it to the right audience.

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