There’s something that makes a lot of sense about opening a store from your home. After all, online shopping is wildly popular. And maybe you’ve always wanted to sell things but didn’t particularly like the idea of opening a physical store. Maybe you didn’t much like the idea of interacting with people face-to-face. Having an online store lets you stay at home. Or, at the very least, keep some computer screens between you and the customer.
Seems like easy money, right? Well, it’s not. It can certainly be a worthwhile endeavor, but you really have to have drive and passion. The people in it for a quick buck probably won’t get very far here. So if you’re thinking about opening some kind of online store, read on. There is much that you need to think about.
The supposed ease of doing it
Spend some time on the Internet and the chances are you’ll see several articles telling you that you can do anything with little effort and cost. They’re the kind of inspirational articles that budding entrepreneurs are always clicking on. This is true in the world of online shopping.
Some articles make it seem like you need pretty much nothing to get started if you want to build and run an online store. After all, there are domain hosting services and web developers and designers that will sort out the website for you. Heck, there are several pre-coded, pre-designed templates out there, so you don’t even need those designers and devs. If you want to get the word out about your store, you can just use Google’s advertising services. There are even websites like ShipWire that will do all of the actual store work for you. Stocking, inventory, shipping – you can outsource it all.
All of these things are mentioned in articles all across the Internet. It creates this inspirational narrative, the kind that young people wanting to start a business love to read. It makes the starting and running of a store sound incredibly easy. An “Anyone can do it! Everyone is already doing it!” kind of thing. Of course, you need to approach this mindset with a pinch of salt. It takes so much more to get started in this arena. You can’t just sit there at your laptop and let the Internet work its magic. You need to get hands-on, professional, business-like and market savvy.
What you’re going to sell
Your product should feel new and exciting. The first product test you need to perform is on yourself. Ask yourself: are you passionate about this product? This service? If you don’t have the passion, then you may not have the drive to take this all the way. (I’m aware I’m using the clichéd language found in the kind of articles I disparaged earlier. But there is truth to the need for passion and originality!)
You should research the competition thoroughly. Even with really inspired ideas, the chances are that there are similar products to yours out there. So find out more about them. What is it about those products that make them work so well? What is it about the website on which they’re being sold that is generating those sales? Use all of this to make comparisons to your own product. It will highlight the need for your product to have a unique selling proposition.
Before jumping into starting your own store, consider getting feedback from friends and family. See if they’ll then help you get feedback from their friends. Everything sounding positive? Then think about selling your product on a small scale. Use websites like eBay or craigslist to sell your items. If you’re getting encouraging sales, then it’s time to move onto the next step.
Write up a business plan
Never underestimate the importance of a business plan! It’s not just some fancy lingo that business studies students use to try to remind people that they went to college! You need to take the time to sit down and figure out what you’re doing from this point forth.
Are you going to get funding from outside investors? Are you funding it yourself? Whichever way you’re doing it, make financial plans. How much will it cost to produce the first batch of product? The second? How much will it cost to ship them out? What business type are you going to be operating as? And how much will the tax for that cost? And what about employees? If you’re working with other people, you’ll need to compensate them somehow.
Building an infrastructure
Once you’ve moved away from things like eBay or craigslist, you need to start building up your own website. The first thing you need to decide upon is your web hosting service. There are a bunch of options out there for you. You need to pick carefully! Research each host thoroughly. You need something that will allow you to accept payments. It also needs to be ultra-reliable; check those customer reviews to ascertain its suitability! You’ll also need to make sure you can get an SSL certificate for that website.
Are you not sure what an SSL certificate is? Well, open up Amazon or eBay on your browser right now. See that green padlock in the URL bar? That’s the result of having a valid SSL certificate. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer. In short, it’s something that ensures trustworthiness. If you don’t have SSL, you’re going to have trouble making sales. This process will cost you, but it’s something you need. Visit an SSL discount coupon provider if you feel like saving some money here.
You’ll then need to hook yourself up with a merchant account for your store. You’ll also need to get your hands on some trusty e-commerce software that will allow the users to send payments. Make sure you’re in the know about all the steps of this stage. You’re going to have a lot of choice in this area, and you’re going to need to be careful. Check the terms and conditions of each option thoroughly to make sure you won’t get messed about financially in the long run. (This is, of course, one of the many reasons why you should always read the terms and conditions!)
Getting people to your shop
Here comes one of the trickier parts. You’ve no doubt heard a lot about the importance of Internet marketing. When you’re running a blog or an entertainment website, the ways to do this are much more clear cut. Search engine optimization will help those kinds of websites greatly. But don’t assume you can use the same SEO tactics that those websites use.
The reason that SEO works so well for those websites is because of the abundance of text. Search engine algorithms are very dependent on text. Writers can stuff their posts with all the keywords and other tricks that get the result they’re looking for. But when you’re running an online store, you’re a bit more limited. The writing visible on your website is going to be minimal. This means you have fewer opportunities to take advantage of SEO. You can use client outreach websites to have content created on other websites that link back to yours. But you’re going to need a little more than that.
See if you can get attention through more traditional advertising. Adverts in print media and on YouTube are still successful when deployed correctly. (Okay, YouTube may not sound like a traditional method. But, in a way, it is. After all, it’s making a video advertisement as opposed to messing about with webpage content and HTML tags!) You can try getting your advertising onto the most visited websites. Did you know that you can advertise your online store on Amazon? Sounds strange, but it’s true.
Oh, and don’t forget to use social media. Not only will this allow people to share your content more easily; it will also help you develop a persona. All brands should have an endearing, engaging personality!
Turning visitors into customers
You’ve heard of SEO. But what about CRO? That’s conversion rate optimization. It’s turning those visits into purchases. After all, what’s the point of getting people to flood to your store if those users aren’t going to convert into customers? It’s how you’re going to keep this business running, after all.
One of the more obvious suggestions to make here is to keep your products at an attractive price. If a good number of sales are what has got you this far, though, that might seem like redundant advice. So what do you need to get people exploring your store and eager to find out about your products? (And, y’know, hopefully, buy them?) One answer is beautiful design. The user experience (UX) is important for every website ever. But for an online store, it’s perhaps the most vital thing of all. The user needs to have a completely smooth experience when browsing and purchasing. Consider getting a professional UX review. If there are any problems with your design or sales flow, that reviewer will be able to find it.
We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and I hope this article has helped you out. But the truth is that this just about scratches the surface. There is a lot more research you need to be doing. If you’re in this with the hopes of it being a get-rich-quick scheme, don’t bother. This is going to take time, effort and research. Remain original and dedicated and you should be able to go far.
This post was contributed.