Creating an e-commerce business is an exciting endeavor. It can be very appealing to be able to do business from your own home. However, there are some things that you need to understand before beginning this process.
You need a product. You need to build a site that is effective, and you also need to spend time growing the site so that you can develop a strong reputation once it has launched.
This means creating and maintaining a brand and marketing your site and its content in various places.
This guide will walk you through some of the steps you need to follow to build and grow an e-commerce business.
Pick a Niche or Product
Typically, you may already have a product in mind. If you don’t, that’s OK.
However, it is essential to have your product in mind before you start building because you will be using the product itself to structure how you will create your site. Spend some time researching something that interests you and find out how to either create it or purchase it at a wholesale rate so that you can offer it for resale.
Do Market Research
Do some initial market research on the product you wish to sell.
You need to answer a few questions before you begin. How interested are people in this product? Who are the people who would purchase such an item or service?
Find out who your competitors are, and try to find a niche where you will stand out. Try to determine what sort of sales you are likely to be able to get and how much revenue you can get from your chosen product or niche.
Form Your Business
A common mistake that many people make when starting an e-commerce business is not to treat it seriously.
E-commerce businesses are still businesses, and you need to be professional in the way that you go about building them.
The primary difference is the setting where you wish to make your sales. You need to follow the same steps that any other business requires.
Pick a Business Model
Before you start, you need a model. You need to understand clearly how you plan on selling your products or services.
At a high level, there are two basic models for e-commerce businesses: online-only, or a combination between online and in-person, or brick and mortar.
Online-only businesses have no physical location where customers do business outside of the website and any other online marketplaces, such as Amazon or eBay.
Break down the way that you intend on getting products and deliver them to consumers. Do you plan on having an inventory? Are you planning on dropshipping, which means not keeping any products in stock and only delivering when orders are placed?
Brick and Mortar & Online
You can also choose to combine the above with a brick-and-mortar setting. You may prefer to have a physical store where people can visit you and purchase your items. This can be a rented storefront, or you can use a kiosk at a mall.
If you choose to do business this way, you will need to figure out how you plan on managing inventory. If, for instance, you intend to sell unique items ― for example, if you are selling used records, antiques, or one-of-kind crafts ― you need to have a way to make sure that people in two locations don’t try to buy the same product.
Create a Business Plan
Any business worth anything has a business plan in place. A business plan is important even if you don’t intend on getting investors or borrowing from a bank ― if you intend to go this route, it’s 100 percent essential.
A well-defined business plan is necessary so that you can gauge your success. Spend some time writing down your plan.
Elements that you will want include an executive summary, description, market analysis, organization and management, service or product line, marketing, and sales plan, and sales projections.
Register as a Business
For legal reasons, it’s generally in your interest to register your business with local and/or state governments. There may be some upfront costs, but the legal aspects of registering may protect you well in the future. On top of that, it makes you far more professional to be registered.
It’s important to understand that there is a wide range of different business types, ranging from doing business as (DBA) or sole proprietorships to limited liability companies (LLCs) and partnerships with registered corporations.
Get Your Taxes Set Up
Depending on how and where you are set up, you will likely need to be paying taxes on your business. Taxes can be everything from basic sales taxes to income taxes or capital gains.
Read up on this and ensure that you are following local, state, federal, or international requirements, depending on your business model. It might be wise to consider hiring an accountant to help you with this.
Create Your Brand
Having a well-established brand is important for many businesses but especially for digital sales. This can include your name, your logo, and it also becomes your reputation. Having a good brand will help you spread information about yourself across the internet and social media.
When creating a brand consider the following:
- Your identity: What is the visual look you want for your company’s logo?
- Your message: How would you describe yourself to people in an elevator pitch?
- Your customers: Who are they and what are they like? What are their interests?
Pick Your Name
Of course, one of the first things you are going to want to do is to pick a company name. This is directly tied to the first part of the branding process: developing an identity. Think of the image you want to project.
This will become your brand and how customers think of you.
Get a Domain
Closely tied to picking a name, you need to register a domain name that is associated with that name. For e-commerce, you need to have an online identity where people know where to look. Registering a domain name is not difficult. You can find more details about registering a domain name here.
Build Your e-Commerce Site
Now that you have a product, a brand, and a domain, it’s time to build your e-commerce website. There are two ways of doing this: either by yourself or by hiring a professional web developer.
Do It Yourself
The advantages of using a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach are fairly clear; it is considerably less expensive than hiring a professional. The good news is that there are many platforms and hosting tools that will help you create an e-commerce site yourself, such as Wix or Shopify, or ― slightly more difficult yet more powerful ― with WordPress and WooCommerce.
However, the drawbacks are that unless you are a professional web developer yourself, your website will likely be a cookie-cutter site and end up looking like many other sites. You won’t have as much flexibility as you will with a professional.
You may find yourself locked into a platform that does not grow with your business. However, it is an excellent approach for those with a low budget looking to get their feet wet. If you start to grow, you can always invest in other options.
Work With a Developer
If you are ready to make a serious investment into creating a powerful and original e-commerce website, you may wish to work with a professional web developer or development team.
While the cost of doing so may be considerably higher, this is the approach that almost all top-notch businesses take. You will have the flexibility of making a website that can be custom-designed exactly to your specifications and with all the bells and whistles you can gain from doing so.
Select an e-Commerce and Website Hosting Platform
There are a wide variety of platforms that are available for small businesses wishing to get set up with e-commerce. These platforms can range from easy to use but limited, such as Wix and Shopify, to slightly more flexible and complicated (WordPress) to full-fledged content management service (CMS) tools like Drupal or custom-designed sites created by developers.
A domain name may or may not be included in the package you choose. Get some help choosing a platform here.
Find and Develop a Theme for Your Store
Many of the platforms or website builders you choose will have a set of templates or themes that you can use for your online store. These can make it easy to get started. There are often many free themes that you can use, or you can purchase some more elaborate ones for reasonable prices.
When picking a theme, you will want to take several things into consideration. Choosing a theme should depend largely on your actual product and brand. Make sure you choose something that complements your products and brand adequately. Good navigation is also important as nobody likes a site that they can’t find their way around.
Pay attention to how customized the theme is. You may not wish to be stuck with the same style forever. Find out if you can try these out for a while before choosing, customizing your store, and adding products.
Set Up Shipping
If you are selling a physical product, you will need a way of getting your items to your customers. If you are dropshipping, make sure your supplier can deliver to where your customers are. If you are shipping items yourself, look into options like USPS, UPS, FedEx, or other alternatives.
It’s important to note that some platforms come with shipping options already included. In others, it’s more of a DIY process.
Pick a Payment Gateway
You need to have a method in place for people to pay for your products. These can vary a bit. Some platforms provide these services, and there are many other online methods ranging from PayPal, Stripe, Square, and many private credit processing companies.
Note that sales taxes may be handled for you with these providers.
Now that you have everything set up, you’re ready to go live, right? Not so fast, as you need to make sure you test everything on your site. Go over everything with a fine-tooth comb.
Make sure your shopping cart works properly and ensure there are no obvious errors that occur. You may look unprofessional if people get a bad impression of your site. Once everything is working smoothly, then it’s time to launch the site.
Market Your Business & Products
Now that you’ve launched your site, you will need to make sure that people will purchase your products. To do that, they need to be able to find you or to seek you out. At this point, it’s wise to spend a considerable amount of time and resources marketing your business and your products.
This is a continuous process. You can’t just expect to run one or two ad campaigns and expect continual sales. You need to market your business continually.
Build Recognition & Reputation
To build your brand, one of the best methods you can use is social media marketing. You can use various social media outlets to help build your brand. It might make sense to make some use of social media influencers or people with a solid reputation and following to help promote your product.
Also, consider issuing press releases and seek out publications in your niche market to help generate brand awareness.
One of the best ways of generating traffic is through organic traffic by using search engines. Spend some time optimizing your site and using SEO techniques to make sure your site appears in the top results when people search for products of your type.
If you have a regularly maintained blog where you talk about your product, not only will this increase your likelihood of being found through search engines ― content is one of the major drivers of SEO ― but you can use this to create sales funnels.
Write articles that help promote your product to people who may be interested. Offer free newsletters or notifications so that people can keep up to date with your business. This should help drive sales.
Advertising & PPC Campaigns
Beyond organic methods, you may wish to spend some money on advertising. PPC campaigns can help get your site listed on the top of search engines by paying for advertising space. This helps bring brand recognition but also can drive people directly to your site.
You can advertise on search engines and many social media sites and target your ads specifically to niches or demographics that are most interested in your product.
Analyze & Refine
Of course, nobody is an expert right away. Running advertising campaigns can be difficult. However, because of the digital nature of e-commerce, you can track much of the success of your campaigns by using sales analytics.
Pay Attention to Analytics
Pay close attention to the stats that you can get from using Google Analytics or other analytics platforms. Track individual campaigns and try tweaking your results to improve your success rate on future campaigns.
You can track everything from the success of email campaigns, how people use your site, and even places where you might be losing sales through abandoned shopping carts, 404 errors ― meaning a link goes nowhere ― and similar issues.
Revisit Your Business Plan Regularly
That business plan you started with may be excellent, but it may eventually need some adjusting.
Nothing is set in stone.
If you recognize areas that are generating greater amounts of profit, consider refocusing your goals in those directions. This should be able to help your business grow.
Also, make sure you have plans in place to ensure that you can handle any sudden growth in sales. It’s wise to reanalyze your business structure continually, not only to increase your return on investment (ROI) but also to grow to be the successful e-commerce business you always hoped to attain.