When most people dream of running an e-commerce business, they envision selling an amazing product that’s in high demand and easy to source. Waking up to sales notifications, free from the daily grind, the master of your own schedule.
But when it comes to launching an e-commerce business, fear, procrastination, and lack of information can get in the way. It’s difficult to focus when you have so much learn and do.
All is not lost though!
With a clear plan, and strong focus, you can start your own e-commerce business in just a week. Here’s our full seven day e-commerce set up plan.
Draw up a business plan
Fail to plan, plan to fail. The success of any business will largely be determined by the quality of the planning behind it. On day one you should be documenting what you’re going to sell, who you think will buy it and how you will market to appeal to them. Don’t worry if there are things you are not sure of, or parts you envisage will change along the way. A business plan is a working document and it will evolve. The most important thing is that you record all your ideas in one document you can easily refer back to. Things will move fast in the early days of your new business, and details are easily forgotten if they’re not written down. Similarly, the exercise of documenting your thoughts can help to bring clarity and highlight any areas you may wish to research further.
Study the market
The internet has opened retail, exposing customers to unparalleled levels of choice. Comparison shopping is quick and easy. A good product and a fast, efficient service are now the base requirements to even survive. To get ahead, sellers need branding and marketing. These two elements are what separates the surviving from the thriving in e-commerce.
Good marketing and branding require strong industry knowledge. If you’re going to sell a product online, you need to know who your main competitors are and how you shape up next to them. Your competitors may be small companies or big brands. Also, with global shipping, your competitors could be anywhere in the world.
Googling one of your main products is a good place to start establishing who your competitors are. From this point, think of these businesses not as competition to be feared, but as business opportunities presented for you to learn from. Listing a handful of the top ones, look at their websites and social media. Note each businesses strengths and weaknesses.
Points to pay attention to:
- Product pricing
- Shipping costs and timeframes
- Returns policy
- Payment options
- Tone speaking to customers
- Product descriptions
Use customer reviews and their social media to learn about their customers. Immerse yourself in Facebook groups they use and study the way they speak. Find what thy like and what makes them laugh.
It may feel like browsing, but it’s important to put effort into this stage. Overtaking these businesses will depend on your ability to create a site and product range that is more appealing to these same customers.
Build out your brand
Even if you have no plans to brand products, your brand as a business is very important. Brand goes far beyond your logo or even store design. Your brand is the sum of how people see your business. It’s everything the customer uses to form an opinion of your company. Brand is the quality of the images you use, the layout of your website, the efficiency of your customer service and even the things you re post on social media. You may be selling the most beautiful vegan skincare with perfectly targeted ads that vegans find truly compelling, but re tweeting a picture of someone enjoying their meat feast brunch would send your brand down in flames.
It’s essential that you know more than just the name and the logo. Think as your customer and build from their needs. Decide your tone and approach, then consider the visuals. If you’re selling last minute gifts to busy commuters, your mobile experience needs to be excellent, descriptions need to be snappy and delivery needs to be fast. If you’re selling to teenage girls, your language could be less formal and product pages may include customer photos from social media. You may even choose to style your category pages like an Instagram feed.
Open your store
Getting a basic store set up is incredibly easy. Shopify and BigCommerce are out the box e-commerce solutions that I recommend for most new businesses because they make setting up quick and painless. Once you’ve opened a basic store, you need to choose a store design. Again, hosted solutions make this incredibly easy, supplying basic store templates for free. If you want a store design that’s exclusive to you or has advanced features beyond the standard store, you may want to work with an e-commerce designer to build you a custom e-commerce store design.
Once you have your store design, you can go ahead and start adding your product images and descriptions.
Pressing a button to put your store live may sound like a very small step, but it can bring about real anxiety for many sellers. It’s common to be apprehensive about the prospect of being responsible for people’s shopping experiences and open to their feedback.
However, hosted e-commerce solutions take a lot of the scary stuff away, managing payment portals and security for you. With a managed solution big issues like site speed, mobile responsiveness and security are all handle for you. You’re free to focus on marketing and delivering great products and service.
Bringing in profits means making sales. Firstly, if you already sell on marketplaces, link those stores to your e-commerce website control panel to give you a clear overview of your sales.
Second, focus on funnelling customers to your website. When you sell from a marketplace, be sure to include a thank you slip with a discount code to use on your website. You may want to look at selling with Google Shopping, but unless you are in a very small niche, this can be expensive.
Selling from a Facebook store, you can target potential customers with your product pages in a similar way, often at a lower cost. More than one billion people are active on Facebook and selling from a Facebook store is free. Setting up a Facebook store increases your exposure to Facebook users and helps to increase conversion for any paid Facebook advertising you run.
You have your store, now you need customers. It’s important that you take every opportunity you get to pull attention to your new business and start attracting customers.
Growing your social following an keeping them engaged is important. Talk to the people you want to buy from you. Follow them back. If they post something you feel is on brand, give it a like. On the run up to your site launch, post teasers letting customers know the type of products they can expect to see in your store, and promoting any opening offers you may choose to run. You may also consider paid campaigns for both social media and search.
Lastly, don’t get so caught up in the online sauce that you forget the real world. If you’re selling items for parents or children, reach out to local schools and nurseries. If you sell sports equipment, reach out to local clubs and gyms. Offer their customers a small discount. These ‘real world’ businesses may be willing to put up posters or give out flyers for you.
In the same vein, notifying local press can be a good way to get extra exposure. Include a photo to increase your chance of high-quality free coverage.
For new e-commerce entrepreneurs, the fast route to profitability often means working in and on the business concurrently, at least in the first days and weeks. It’s a constant battle for time between hustling up fresh sales and taking care of new customers with outstanding service.
When the day-to-day workload from the business becomes too heavy (a good sign, because it means you have customers) it’s time to move non-immediate tasks to the back burner. Focus on generating cash flow first. But as soon as you hit your quiet period, start looking at ways to streamline processes, cut costs and improve your customer experience.
E-commerce is evolving at lightning speed and only those who are restless and constantly look for ways to improve will stay on top.